"London is apparently littered with bottles of discarded Uber piss." So why are cab drivers peeing in bottles?

You do what you gotta do. Image: Hans at pixabay.

Uber drivers have their fair share of logistical difficulties. Momentum, the magazine launched last year by the company to provide its drivers with support and advice, numbers among them such pressing concerns as "keeping fit despite driving all day" and "finding a toilet" .

Sadly, we don't have an issue to hand, so we're not sure how the company expects drivers to use the bathroom while on the job. But based on other evidence, it looks like drivers have found their own, impressively innovative solution to the whole peeing problem.  

From Twitter, earlier this week: 

But it could be just that driver, right? 

Well, no. A reply, a few minutes later: 

And another: 

So far, so anecdotal. But some digging around on independently-run Uber driver forums (again, not entirely verifiable, but it's a start) implies that the practice is pretty common among drivers, though uptake seems depend on location (we'll get to why in a minute).

On this thread, one driver explains that he has trouble finding a bottle of the right, er, size and width to pee in. Other drivers respond, recommending Gatorade or Vitamin Water bottles. 

Another recommends disposable urinal bags, available in packs of six from Amazon for a mere $12. Drivers on this thread, meanwhile, claim to use "pee cups" or "pee jugs". 

So why this desperate state of affairs? Some forum users joke that efficient use of time is key to an Uber driver's business, and so refusing to stop to relieve yourself could just be a way to rake in more rides.

But the confusion among other drivers who haven't needed to resort to an in-vehicle pee receptacle hints at another, more location-specific issue. Those who advise finding "a dark area with trees" or a 24-hour Wal-Mart are mostly based in the US, where parking and facilities are far easier to find. But in cities like London, free parking is thin on the ground, while non-customer use of toilets is usually frowned upon.

Public toilets in London, especially at night, tend to be placed in areas with busy nightlife, where drivers are unlikely to find a parking spot. Yes, that driver in the original tweet could have gone to Starbucks – but he could have ended up paying both the price of a coffee and a parking ticket for the privilege. 

One driver on reddit says Washington DC's bathrooms are also particularly driver-unfriendly: 

Bathroom breaks... It's really the only aspect of driving for uber that bothers me! In downtown, DC business are definitely not hospitable to non-customer bathroom use... Many spots (McDonald's for example) go so far as to lock their bathroom doors and attach token machines to unlock them. 

In fact, the same kinds of issues affect most people who drive for a living. The UK's declining number of public bathrooms – one in seven of which closed in the three years to November 2013 alone – has made it much harder to find available facilities. This Quora thread implies that London's cabbies face very similar problem to its Uber drivers, though one commenter emphasises that they draw the line at adult diapers:

No London cabbie I know would own up to wearing diapers!!  (We call them nappies).  

But the driver on Reddit raises another, separate issue, this time about the Uber business model in particular. Uber recently introduced a guaranteed hourly rate for drivers if they abide by certain rules. These include accepting 90 per cent of ride requests, staying online for 50 out of every 60 minutes, and completing at least one ride an hour.

The move was designed to stop drivers working for multiple rideshare apps at once, but it has a side effect. A couple of bathroom breaks – which could require driving all the way to a public bathroom, or buying food or drink in order to use facilities –could easily break one or more of these rules, depriving drivers of vital income.

All in, it's one more reason to fight to keep public toilets open in major cities. Alternatively, you could support organisations like the Cabmen's Shelter Fund, which runs London's handful of "green hut" rest spots for cabbies (we assume these aren't open to Uber and other hire-car drivers, though were unable to reach the charity to confirm). These were founded in the late 19th century, but, like public toilets, have dwindled in recent years. There are now just 13 left in the capital. 

Or, of course, car firms could take a little responsibility for providing facilities and breaks for their drivers. But for Uber, a company which has little to no contact with its drivers, this seems just a little unlikely. 

We have approached Uber for comment and will update this piece accordingly if and when they respond. 


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.