Great news for black cab drivers and bad news for anyone who enjoys a cheap ride home from the club—Uber has lost its license in London.
Taxi and private hire vehicle operators in the capital can only operate with a license from Transport for London (TfL). Uber's current license expires on September 30, next Saturday. In a statement published this morning, TfL announced it had concluded that "Uber London Limited is not fit and proper" to have that license renewed.
TfL slammed Uber's approach and conduct, which it said demonstrated "a lack of corporate responsibility" with "potential public safety and security implications." Criticisms included its approach to reporting serious criminal offenses and the way in which it carries out checks on drivers. The statement also raised concerns about Uber's use of Greyball—a tool that the company is reported to have developed to avoid official scrutiny by identifying law enforcement officials using the app and preventing them from being picked up.
London mayor Sadiq Khan issued a statement backing TfL's decision. "I want London to be at the forefront of innovation and new technology and to be a natural home for exciting new companies that help Londoners by providing a better and more affordable service," he said. "However, 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. Providing an innovative service must not be at the expense of customer safety and security. I fully support TfL's decision—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."
Drivers using the Uber London web forum reported immediate price surges on the app, which occur whenever demand for drivers outstrips supply, in the wake of TfL's announcement. "Hahahaha yea big surge it's either pax [passengers] protesting and ordering Uber constantly or drivers been hit with heart attacks and they all end up in the emergency room," one user wrote.
So what does this actually mean? In practice, it's likely that nothing will change, at least for now. Uber has already confirmed it will appeal TfL's decision—the tech giant was hardly going to give up on one of its largest markets without a fight—and, while that appeal goes ahead, TfL has said the service can continue to operate as normal, meaning it's very unlikely that you won't be able to get a cab via the app next weekend.
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Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London, issued a statement focusing on the impact the decision will have on its drivers—a stance some will find ironic, given the battles the company has fought to avoid recognizing them as employees. "3.5 million Londoners who use our app, and more than 40,000 licensed drivers who rely on Uber to make a living, will be astounded by this decision," he said.
"By wanting to ban our app from the capital Transport for London and the Mayor caving to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice, will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport. This ban would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies who bring choice to consumers."
It's unclear how this could play out for the drivers who rely on the app. Some users of the Uber London forum were already looking forward to taking up better gigs at private hire taxi firms, but given the way in which Uber has taken over the market in recent years, it seems unlikely that will be an option for all 40,000.
The company also said it uses the same background checks as those used for black cab drivers and follows TfL rules on reporting serious incidents to the police. Uber also cited an independent review that found its Greyball technology was never deployed in London.
Whatever the outcome of Uber's appeal, losing its London license is yet more bad news for the ride-hailing firm, which has faced ongoing criticism over issues including the way it treats its drivers and its approach to passenger safety. Earlier this year, the company was forced to appoint a new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, after co-founder Travis Kalanick stepped down in the wake of a series of scandals.
Given that Uber was always going to appeal the decision, the loss of its licence may well just be a warning shot from TfL aimed at forcing the company to take its concerns more seriously. If not, look forward to becoming reacquainted with the night bus.
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