Uber gets booted out of London

Transport for London has decided not to renew the license of ride-hailing service Uber due to public safety concerns.

Even Uber needs a private hire operator license to do its cheap taxi thing in London. “TfL has concluded that Uber London Limited is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence,” said the capital’s transport bureaucracy in a statement. “TfL considers that Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”

The main concerns seem to be around the accountability of Uber drivers, including the approach to criminal record checks and medical certificates. There was also a direct reference to the use of a piece of software called Greyball, which apparently enables Uber to operate under the radar of regulatory authorities.

Uber, as you would expect, is not happy. “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,” said Tom Elvidge, GM of Uber in London. “To defend the livelihoods of all those drivers, and the consumer choice of millions of Londoners who use our app, we intend to immediately challenge this in the courts.

“Drivers who use Uber are licensed by TfL and have been through the same enhanced DBS background checks as black cab drivers. Our pioneering technology has gone further to enhance safety with every trip tracked and recorded by GPS. We have always followed TfL rules on reporting serious incidents and have a dedicated team who work closely with the Metropolitan Police. As we have already told TfL, an independent review has found that ‘greyball’ has never been used or considered in the UK for the purposes cited by TfL.

“Uber operates in more than 600 cities around the world, including more than 40 towns and cities here in the UK. This ban would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies who bring choice to consumers.”

“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,” said Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London. “Any operator of private hire services in London needs to play by the rules.”

The license runs out on 30 September – in eight days – but Uber is allowed to keep going while it appeals. While Elvidge’s altruistic inferences are hard to swallow there is no denying how popular the service is in London as well as its contribution to the ‘gig economy’. There are plenty of emotive reasons to oppose Uber – from black cab protectionism to low pay to ecological concerns – but those shouldn’t be the basis for law.

On top of the TfL’s stated concerns about safety this issue revolves around the broader issue of whether internet companies should be allowed to enjoy the competitive advantage that comes with being more lightly regulated than their old-world counterparts. Telcos have long been unhappy at the different way in which so-called OTTs are treated and Uber’s appeal in London could set far-reaching precedents.