On Monday, Transport for London (TfL), the city's transport authority, refused to extend Uber's license to operate over safety and security concerns. The government body cited "several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk," outlining a “pattern of failures” which were ultimately too significant to ignore.
A key issue for TfL was a change to Uber’s systems that allowed unauthorized drivers to upload their photos to other driver accounts. This resulted in at least 14,000 trips where passengers rode with drivers other than their booked driver. All those trips were uninsured, and some were with drivers not licensed to drive for Uber, including one case where a driver’s license had been revoked. "Another failure" let suspended drivers create a new Uber account and still accept rides, raising concerns that Uber was "again compromising passenger safety and security."
Uber initially lost its license in London in 2017 but was granted two extensions—the last of which expired at midnight on Monday. After expiration, Uber is allowed to operate for 21 days and appeal the decision in the meantime.
In a tweet early Monday morning, Uber UK shrugged off the decision, calling it "wrong" and announcing they would both appeal and continue to “operate as normal” during the appeals process.
In a statement, TfL recognized the ride-hailing company’s steps, but said it had "a concern that Uber's systems seem to have been comparatively easily manipulated." The transport authority went on to conclude that "it currently does not have confidence that Uber has a robust system for protecting passenger safety while managing changes to its app."
This is just the latest setback Uber has experienced in the face of growing global backlash to its company's reckless behavior and “growth at all costs” strategy that has come at the cost of labor conditions, driver living standards, urban traffic and pollution, and more.
A lot is riding on this appeal for Uber. London is one of Europe's biggest markets with 3.5 million riders and 45,000 drivers, according to the company, and it’s one of five cities that altogether account for 24% of Uber's sales. In their S-1 filing, Uber revealed: "Any inability to operate in London, as well as the publicity concerning any such termination or non-renewal, would adversely affect our business, revenue, and operating results.”
One possible outcome would be to allow Uber back only if it recognized drivers as employees. The U.K. Supreme Court has already ruled that drivers are employees, and said that Uber’s arguments that they were independent contractors contained a “high degree of fiction.” Still, drivers and labor activists will have to push the government to consider labor issues as legitimate grounds for rejecting Uber’s inevitable appeal.
Europe, home to more militant labor activism than the U.S., has already pushed Uber out of multiple countries or drawn blood in the process: outright bans in Denmark, Bulgaria, and Turkey; partial or near-total bans across Germany, Spain, and Turkey.
For now, London authorities seem to be focused on is safety. "I know this decision may be unpopular with Uber users but their safety is the paramount concern,” said London Mayor Sadiq Khan in a statement.