On Monday, the city of London granted Uber yet another temporary license to operate in the city. For the past three years, the ride-hail company has relied on a series of temporary licenses, extensions, and appeals to keep operating in its largest European market.
"This 18-month license with a number of conditions allows us to closely monitor Uber's adherence to the regulations and to swiftly take action if they fail to meet the required standards," Transport for London (TfL), the city’s transport authority, said in a statement. The temporary license would also be subject to 21 conditions, which the statement did not disclose, up from the 14 Uber’s previous temporary license was subject to.
Uber and TfL did not immediately respond to Motherboard’s request for a statement.
In 2017, TfL declared Uber was “not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license" and refused to renew Uber's 5-year license. At the time, TfL raised concerns about how the company's "lack of corporate responsibility" posed a threat to "public safety and security,” but allowed Uber to continue operating while it appealed the 2017 ban.
In a June 2018 appeals hearing, Uber admitted that London’s 2017 ban was "the right decision based on evidence at the time" but maintained this had led to “wholesale change” to make the company much safer for riders and drivers. Uber was granted a 15-month probationary license which expired in September 2019, then another 2-month extension that came with "new conditions to ensure passenger safety" and more time for the TfL to scrutinize additional details it requested from Uber.
In November 2019, Uber’s license was revoked for the second time due to "several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk," all part of a “pattern of failures” that were impossible to ignore any longer. Regulators discovered a security failure had allowed unauthorized drivers to "upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts," resulting in 24 drivers who shared their accounts with 20 others and made a total of 14,788 trips—all of which were uninsured. Another security failure let suspended drivers simply create a new account and continue to accept rides.
“[Uber] does not have a perfect record, but it has been an improving picture." Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram wrote in his decision. “I am satisfied that they are doing what a reasonable business in their sector could be expected to do, perhaps even more.”
For years, Uber has consistently raised concerns over its seemingly fickle regard for public safety. It was only nine months ago that Uber unveiled an internal study that found thousands of incidents of sexual violence on its platform and hundreds of rape allegations were never disclosed to law enforcement. One year ago, the Washington Post discovered an Uber investigative unit created to prioritize the company’s interests above rider safety and were "forbidden by Uber from routing allegations to police or from advising victims to seek legal counsel or make their own police reports, even when they get confessions of felonies."
All of this is a predictable consequence of a business model that prioritizes growth and regulatory capture over working conditions and public safety. Under the guise of fighting for its disproportionately Black and brown workforce, the company has pursued an exploitative labor model that hurts the same communities of color it claims to uplift. In the name of protecting workers’ rights, Uber has funnelled millions to California’s GOP, a party that has been committed to a long war on workers’ rights.
Deploying GOP lobbyists, buying unprofitable companies, funding research that paints the company favorably—these are all demonstrably more important and pressing for the company than worker and passenger safety and have spurred worker actions across the United States, Europe, and Nigeria.