"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. 


A growing number of voters will never own their own home. Why is the government ignoring them?

A lettings agent window. Image: Getty.

The dream of a property-owning democracy continues to define British housing policy. From Right-to-Buy to Help-to-Buy, policies are framed around the model of the ‘first-time buyer’ and her quest for property acquisition. The goal of Philip Hammond’s upcoming budget – hailed as a major “intervention” in the “broken” housing market – is to ensure that “the next generation will have the same opportunities as their parents to own a home.”

These policies are designed for an alternative reality. Over the last two decades, the dream of the property-owning democracy has come completely undone. While government schemes used to churn out more home owners, today it moves in reverse.

Generation Rent’s new report, “Life in the Rental Sector”, suggests that more Britons are living longer in the private rental sector. We predict the number of ‘silver renters’ – pensioners in the private rental sector – will rise to one million by 2035, a three-fold increase from today.

These renters have drifted way beyond the dream of home ownership: only 11 per cent of renters over 65 expect to own a home. Our survey results show that these renters are twice as likely than renters in their 20s to prefer affordable rental tenure over homeownership.

Lowering stamp duty or providing mortgage relief completely miss the point. These are renters – life-long renters – and they want rental relief: guaranteed tenancies, protection from eviction, rent inflation regulation.

The assumption of a British ‘obsession’ with homeownership – which has informed so much housing policy over the years – stands on flimsy ground. Most of the time, it is based on a single survey question: Would you like to rent a home or own a home? It’s a preposterous question, of course, because, well, who wouldn’t like to own a home at a time when the chief economist of the Bank of England has made the case for homes as a ‘better bet’ for retirement than pensions?

Here we arrive at the real toxicity of the property-owning dream. It promotes a vicious cycle: support for first-time buyers increases demand for home ownership, fresh demand raises house prices, house price inflation turns housing into a profitable investment, and investment incentives stoke preferences for home ownership all over again.

The cycle is now, finally, breaking. Not without pain, Britons are waking up to the madness of a housing policy organised around home ownership. And they are demanding reforms that respect renting as a life-time tenure.

At the 1946 Conservative Party conference, Anthony Eden extolled the virtues of a property-owning democracy as a defence against socialist appeal. “The ownership of property is not a crime or a sin,” he said, “but a reward, a right and responsibility that must be shared as equitable as possible among all our citizens.”

The Tories are now sleeping in the bed they have made. Left out to dry, renters are beginning to turn against the Conservative vision. The election numbers tell the story of this left-ward drift of the rental sector: 29 per cent of private renters voted Labour in 2010, 39 in 2015, and 54 in June.

Philip Hammond’s budget – which, despite its radicalism, continues to ignore the welfare of this rental population – is unlikely to reverse this trend. Generation Rent is no longer simply a class in itself — it is becoming a class for itself, as well.

We appear, then, on the verge of a paradigm shift in housing policy. As the demographics of the housing market change, so must its politics. Wednesday’s budget signals that even the Conservatives – the “party of homeownership” – recognise the need for change. But it only goes halfway.

The gains for any political party willing to truly seize the day – to ditch the property-owning dream once and for all, to champion a property-renting one instead – are there for the taking. 

David Adler is a research association at the campaign group Generation Rent.

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