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Uber banned in London

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Uber has been stripped of its London operating licence by Transport for London (TfL) this morning. TfL said it reached its decision after “several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk” were identified.

There were concerns over the identification of drivers – with Tfl saying it had found “at least 14,000 trips” made by different drivers to one shown on the app.The company’s current licence runs out at 11.59pm tonight, after TfL extended it for just two months in September.

Transport for London (TfL) said it had identified a “pattern of failures” by Uber, including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk.

A statement reads: “Despite addressing some of these issues, TfL does not have confidence that similar issues will not reoccur in the future, which has led it to conclude that the company is not fit and proper at this time.”Helen Chapman, director of licensing, regulation and charging at TfL, said: “As the regulator of private hire services in London we are required to make a decision today on whether Uber is fit and proper to hold a licence.

“Safety is our absolute top priority. While we recognise Uber has made improvements, it is unacceptable that Uber has allowed passengers to get into minicabs with drivers who are potentially unlicensed and uninsured.”It is clearly concerning that these issues arose, but it is also concerning that we cannot be confident that similar issues won’t happen again in future.

“If they choose to appeal, Uber will have the opportunity to publicly demonstrate to a magistrate whether it has put in place sufficient measures to ensure potential safety risks to passengers are eliminated.

“If they do appeal, Uber can continue to operate and we will closely scrutinise the company to ensure the management has robust controls in place to ensure safety is not compromised during any changes to the app.”There are around 45,000 Uber drivers in London.

Uber said a range of new safety features have been introduced to its app in the past two years.Earlier this month, it launched a system which automatically checks on the well-being of drivers and passengers when a journey is interrupted by a long stop.

It also unveiled a discrimination reporting button on its app, and collaborated with the AA to produce a safety video to educate drivers on topics such as reading the road, speed, space management and how to drop off and pick up passengers safely.

But this wasn’t enough for TfL.”While Uber has worked to address these issues, they highlight the potential safety risk to passengers of weak systems and processes,” TfL said in a statement.Uber’s regional general manager for northern and eastern Europe Jamie Heywood said: “TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence in London is extraordinary and wrong, and we will appeal.”

We have fundamentally changed our business over the last two years and are setting the standard on safety. TfL found us to be a fit and proper operator just two months ago, and we continue to go above and beyond.

“On behalf of the 3.5 million riders and 45,000 licensed drivers who depend on Uber in London, we will continue to operate as normal and will do everything we can to work with TfL to resolve this situation.”It’s not the first time TFL has stripped Uber of its licence .

Back in 2017, TfL concluded Uber was “not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence”.The taxi firm appealed, and was eventually granted a 15-month licence by a judge in June 2018 .It is likely the firm will be allowed to continue operating while any appeals are pending. Uber has 21 days to appeal and then the case goes to magistrate.

BY standard media.co.ke

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Foreign students rethink US business schools

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This summer, dozens of incoming students at New York’s Columbia Business School had planned to sail around the coast of Croatia for a week to get to know each other.

Instead, they are chatting online and playing icebreaker games on Zoom. With the coronavirus still spreading, social gatherings like the sailing trip organised by students are on hold, and there is a good chance that when school starts in September, many classes and events will be held online.

Columbia and other elite US business schools like Harvard Business School and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania have said they will likely move to a “hybrid” model of virtual and in-person learning. It is a far cry from the typical MBA experience which features close contact with fellow students, in-person networking events, trips overseas and lunch sessions with CEOs.

The changes have some students reconsidering the value of a degree that can cost upwards of $100,000 (Sh10 million) a year in tuition, housing and other fees.

International students, who make up roughly 35 per cent of the student body at most elite US business schools, are particularly unsure about the decision.

“The virtual environment might take away a chunk of the MBA experience,” said a 27-year-old student from China who was admitted to Wharton and is considering whether to defer for a year.

“That’s what a lot of people including myself are thinking through now,” said the student, who declined to be identified because of concerns about his visa status and employment prospects

. Education upended

The United States has been hard hit by the coronavirus outbreak, with more than 1.7 million cases and over 100,000 deaths.

Higher education has been upended with most schools sending students home in the spring and moving classes online. The US hosts over a million international students at its higher education institutions, according to the State Department data.

International candidates account for 36 per cent of people who enroll in full-time US MBA programmes, according to Graduate Management Admission Council, an association of business schools.

If institutions do not resume in-person learning, enrollment, particularly among international students, is likely to take a hit, according to a GMAC survey. Only 43 per cent of the international MBA candidates surveyed said they planned to enroll if programmes begin online. Forty-eight per cent of them indicated they would defer in that scenario.

By Standard Business

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Danger online as traffickers target helpless children

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International organisations have raised a red flag over the spike in online human trafficking and child exploitation as people spend more time at home.

With Covid-19 restrictions and more children spending more time online, human traffickers are using the opportunity to recruit, groom and exploit children and lure adults feeling the pinch of the emaciated economy as a result of the coronavirus.

The concern is even more real after a German was arrested on May 4 in Nairobi in the company of a 13-year-old boy alleged to have been trafficked from Nyalenda in Kisumu.

Thomas Scheller, 71, who is in Kenya illegally, beat all the travel restrictions to travel from Kwale to Kisumu and back to Nairobi.

The boy — one of his victims — was defiled between April 30 and May 4. It took the combined efforts and intelligence of Interpol and Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to nab the alleged trafficker classified as a serial offender. Scheller faces six counts of trafficking in persons, child pornography and defilement of five boys aged between 10 and 13.

Local and international organisations attribute the surge in online exploitation of children to the interruption of their physical learning and a change in their daily lives due to confinement affecting many parts of the world.United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Regional Advisor Rachel Harvey estimates that a third of internet users are children, with internet usage increasing by half, following the stay-home orders adopted by most countries to help contain the spread of Covid-19.

Whereas the increase is positive for continuity of education and social life, Harvey warns that it has put children at risk of online sexual exploitation.

“Before Covid-19, it was estimated that there were 750,000 people looking to connect with children for sexual purposes online at any one time. Opportunity and triggers for offending created by containment are likely to have pushed up that number, as well as demand for child sexual abuse materials,” Harvey says.

With limited physical interaction, global trends further single out increased and growing demand for child abuse material. This has given traffickers opportunities to devise new avenues of animating the ‘lucrative’ business of sex tourism by leveraging on the online space to prey on susceptible and unwitting users.

Lawrence Okoth, Internet Crimes against Children Investigator, confirms the nerve-racking trend in Kenya, with the unit based in Nairobi receiving about 300 cases per month of child abuse material and messages meant to lure and recruit victims. “The numbers are quite high and many more actually are not being reported,” Okoth says.

The traffickers are tactical in their approach, hence the big and growing number of victims. Okoth says traffickers stalk their victims. First, they identify their vulnerabilities and then offer a shoulder to lean on and camouflaging as ‘good friends’ with ‘common interests’ such that sharing of nudes becomes easy.Inadvertently, victims find themselves entangled in a compromising and perilous situation.

“Traffickers build confidence with their victims online by sharing conversations that lead to connection and consequently detach their victims from their parents/guardians.

This connection paves way for physical connection offline. With the new-found ‘friendship’ as a stepping stone to invade the victim’s life, traffickers manipulate their victims and whenever their missions are not accomplished, the shared nudes and erotic videos become weapons of blackmail used to force them to comply with any sort of demands, which also include substance abuse.

“In most cases, the traffickers order the victim to recruit other students or their friends and with time, the chain grows and the number of victims multiplies,” Okoth says.

It has further been discovered that traffickers employ other tactics of observing current trends and creating links with names that children identify and relate with indubitably. “We have come across groups such as Class Eight Revision, KCPE 2020 Class and other names that children easily join without questioning their genuineness,” he says.

The bigger concern, Okoth says, is that children and youth are being recruited and exposed online without the knowledge of their custodians. Valiant Richey, Special Representative for Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), describes the scale as unimaginable and growing, with “traffickers recruiting children through many online venues, including social media, game platforms, and chat rooms. They will typically befriend the children, grooming them for sexual activity and then gradually exploit them in various ways.”

In Kenya, detectives have identified different locations in slums in Nairobi and Mombasa where traffickers congregate relatives (mostly children) in sneaky rooms and entice them into sex orgies for purposes of live streaming.

[The writer is a fellow of the 2020 Resilience Fund of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime]

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Kenyan scientist Muthoni Masinde created an app that predicts droughts

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An app is combining weather station data with the traditional knowledge of African farmers to predict droughts.

To help prepare farmers for the effects of climate change, Kenyan computer scientist Muthoni Masinde has created mobile platform ITIKI.

The name stands for Information Technology and Indigenous Knowledge, and the platform sends farmers drought forecasts via an app or SMS message.

Although it uses meteorological data, Masinde says most African farmers can better relate to the traditional knowledge that is also used to formulate the platform’s predictions.

“I grew up in a [Kenyan] village and I noticed that most farmers do not have any form of science to tell [them] when to plant,” Masinde told CNN Business.

“They watch insects, they watch the behavior of animals and then they make a decision, ‘I think it’ll rain in two weeks’ time.’”

ITIKI employs young people in farming communities to gather photos and updates about animal behavior and local vegetation, such as which trees are flowering.

They capture their findings on the ITIKI app, and ITIKI collates this information with data from local weather stations to model weather patterns months in advance.

Farmers can subscribe to the service for just a few cents, and receive regular updates in their local language, helping them make early decisions about which crops they should grow and whether to sell or save their produce.

Economic impact of drought

Many African countries are especially vulnerable to climate change and small-scale farmers in particular, who rely on rainfall for their harvests, could face poverty and food insecurity, according to UN climate experts.

That could have major economic repercussions. Agriculture contributes about 15% to Africa’s total GDP, according to a 2017 UN report, and accounts for around half of the continent’s employment, according to the African Development Bank.

Now a professor at the Central University of Technology Free State, in South Africa, Masinde launched the app in 2016 in Kenya, where agriculture makes up around a third of GDP.

“Investments in climate adaptation solutions, especially targeting small scale farmers, would lead to GDP growth [in Africa],” said Masinde.

She added that African governments tend to react to drought and extreme weather, rather than proactively planning for these events.

“We do not prepare for [drought],” she said. “It’s like we just wake up and discover that people in rural Kenya are starving, that people on one side of the country have no rain.”

Masinde says ITIKI is now used by more than 15,000 farmers in Kenya, Mozambique and South Africa. Since farmers started using the app their crop yields have increased by an average of 11%, according to Masinde.

ITIKI has received $750,000 in funding from the US and South African governments, which will be used to scale up operations. By the end of this year, Masinde hopes to have signed up over 100,000 farmers to the platform.

BY Citizen

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