Safety fears as Uber drivers worried about fines refuse to drop women home within 'clean air' traffic scheme

 (Hammersmith & Fulham)
(Hammersmith & Fulham)

Women living in Hammersmith and Fulham have raised safety fears as Uber drivers are refusing to drop them off at their homes because of controversial council ‘clean air’ cameras.

Under the scheme, residents with cars registered in the borough, their guests, black cabs, carers, business visitors and others with exemptions can go through the cameras covering an area in South Fulham without penalty.

But locals claim that private hire drivers, such as Uber and Bolt, are refusing to leave them at their door late at night for fear of getting a fine, despite exemptions - putting passengers at risk.

The residents’ concerns have been heightened by a letter circulating in neighbourhood forums, seen by the Standard, warning of a person targeting lone women along nearby Wandsworth Bridge Road.

It alleged a person was approaching lone women from behind on a bike, “physically assaulting” them and making "inappropriate demands" in the area which adjoins Townsend Road.  Officers said a 14-year-old boy was arrested in connection with the investigation earlier this month, and that he was bailed to a date later in February.

Nesse Cannon, owner of the BarreFly fitness studio in Parsons Green, said she has since created a WhatsApp safety group off the back of the issue, with 70 women involved.

“One of my clients told me that she got dropped at the top of Parsons Green at two o'clock in the morning because her Uber driver wouldn't drive through the cameras,” she told the Standard.

“I sort of stopped in my tracks and I said, ‘I'm sorry, what did you just say?’ She said, ‘Yeah, it happened to my housemate as well’, and then someone else in the changing room popped her head out and said, ‘Oh yeah that happened to me last week as well.’

“So I was already pretty alarmed. I wrote again to the council to say, ‘Are you f***** kidding me?’ There’s a predator on the loose  in the area and you still have these cameras on and I waited two or three days, got no response and then I went and made an angry rant on the internet which has gone reasonably viral.”

An Instagram video she made last week about the issue has since been viewed thousands of times, with others sharing similar experiences.

One wrote: “My daughter’s father lives in the zone and when we do handovers I’m often cast onto the street alone with a 4 year old and her bags often in the dark and cold early evening.”

The area covered by the South Fulham Clean Air Neighbourhood (Hammersmith and Fulham Council)
The area covered by the South Fulham Clean Air Neighbourhood (Hammersmith and Fulham Council)

Ms Cannon said local police officers told her there was an increased police presence in the area as a result.

She called for the cameras to be paused until the safety issue was addressed and a solution which “works for all of the community” could be found.

However, a council spokesperson said it has been trying to get the issue resolved with Uber for over three years, and that it only required a simple technical change on the taxi giant’s part.

“Uber has said there are data protection issues which prevent them sharing the number plates of their drivers,” said a spokesperson.

“We are confident these can be resolved but we need Uber to agree to meet us at a technical level, which they have so far not done.

“We are still pressing for this to happen.We are also pursuing conversations with Bolt and reaching out to increasingly popular ride-hailing apps like Free Now.”

It pointed out that residents can use an app, called RingGo, to give their driver permission to go through the cameras while on a trip.

In a previous message to drivers, Uber advised drivers can avoid any penalties by using specific access points, and that the council will waive penalties if evidence of a trip is provided.

An Uber spokesperson said: “At Uber we know we have a responsibility to help ensure that everyone gets home safely.

“We are aware of these concerns and continue to be in conversation with Hammersmith and Fulham Council to try and find a workable solution for both drivers and local residents.”

Asked for comment on allegations of lone women being approached in the area, Met Detective Chief Inspector Dean Purvis said: “On Monday, 5 February, we arrested a 14-year-old boy in connection with a number of incidents on the Thames Path in which women reported being subject to sexual comments and inappropriately touched or grabbed.

“This is the result of an extensive investigation by our team, which involved putting more officers at key locations and speaking to those who live and work in the area.

“The boy has been bailed to return on a date later in February.”