Why Has Uber Lost Its London Licence?

On Friday London’s transport regulator stripped Uber of its license to operate, effective from the end of the month.

TfL accused the firm of being “not fit and proper” to hold a private hire operator licence, citing its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and how it obtained enhanced criminal records checks for drivers among the issues to have potential public safety and security implications.

The move will affect around 40,000 drivers. Some 3.5 million passengers use the app in London.

Since its launch in 2012, Uber has had a tumultuous relationship with the London authorities and has faced ongoing criticism from unions, politicians and traditional black cab drivers over working and safety conditions, claims that it gridlocks roads and does not do enough to regulate its drivers.

In 2014 the Licensed Private Hire Car Association called on TfL to ban the service over concerns it was breaching regulations. The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association has repeatedly called on TfL to place the same restrictions on Uber which it places on the capital’s black cabs, including a geographical-style test.

Black cab drivers have long argued the technology used by the firm is threatening their livelihood and accusing the government of failing to regulate the industry. Last year The United Cabbies Group arranged a demonstration in Central London after claiming they had seen taking drop by 30 per cent.

In March the High Court ruled in favour of TfL saying private hire drivers would have to pass a written English exam, which Uber said it would appeal on “unfair and disproportionate” grounds.

It did however claim victory over TfL’s demand that drivers have commercial insurance when vehicles were not being used as private hire vehicles.

In May, Uber’s licence was extended for just four months instead of the usual five-year term, prompting uncertainty about its future in London.

In August, a letter obtained by The Sunday Times revealed the “significant concerns” of Inspector Neil Billany, head of the Met Police’s taxi and private hire unit about the how the firm seemed to be “deciding what crimes to report”, telling police only about “less serious matters” that would be “less damaging to its reputation.”

Billany also accused Uber of “allowing situations to develop that clearly affect the safety and security of the public.” The newspaper revealed that almost two-thirds (62%) of people accused of minicab driving offences in London work for Uber. Of the 128 private hire drivers reported to police in June, 79 were working for the firm. The offences included causing death by dangerous driving, driving without insurance, speeding, careless driving and drink driving.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he backed the decision to withdraw the app-based giant’s licence to operate in the capital.

“All companies in London must play by the rules and adhere to the high standards we expect – particularly when it comes to the safety of customers,” he said.

“It would be wrong if TfL continued to license Uber if there is any way that this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety and security.”

“Transport for London and the Mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice,” said Tom Elvidge, Uber’s general manager in London. “We intend to immediately challenge this in the courts.”

The final day of Uber’s license will be on 30 September, though the firm has vowed to appeal the decision. It’s unclear whether Uber will be able to operate in October whilst any appeal is being considered.

One of Uber’s British competitors in London, Addison Lee, is also awaiting a decision from TfL about a longer-term license.

Globally, Uber has endured a long line of PR misfires and serious accusations. Earlier this year, a former Uber engineer accused the company of overlooking sexual harassment and bullying, leading to investor pressure which forced out former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick.

The app has been forced to quit several countries including Denmark and Hungary and faced regulatory battles in multiple US states and countries around the world.


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