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This article was published on September 22, 2017

Breaking: Uber loses its license to operate in London

Breaking: Uber loses its license to operate in London
Matthew Hughes
Story by

Matthew Hughes

Former TNW Reporter

Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twi Matthew Hughes is a journalist from Liverpool, England. His interests include security, startups, food, and storytelling. Follow him on Twitter.

London’s transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), has said it will not renew Uber’s license to operate in the city, which expires September 30.

In a statement shared on its official Twitter account, TfL said that “Uber London Limited is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license,” saying that its “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues.”

TfL mentioned Uber’s approach to reporting criminal offences, and how it obtains Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) criminal record checks for its drivers.

Other factors in the decision include how medical certificates for its drivers are obtained, and its use of ‘Grayball’ software, which prevents accounts believed to belong to regulatory officials from using the service.

Uber has 21 days to appeal. According to the statement, Uber can continue to operate in the city while it’s appeals the decision. If Uber is unable to convince TfL to issue it with a new license, it will lose access to one of its most profitable markets. It could also spell disaster for its 40,000 drivers, many of whom have taken out expensive leases or loans to drive for Uber, and rely on the ridesharing service as their sole income provider.

In an emailed statement, Tom Elvidge, General Manager of Uber in London, said that the company will immediately challenge the decision in the courts. He also challenged the rationale used by TfL, saying:

Drivers who use Uber are licensed by Transport for London 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.

Elvidge accused TfL and London mayor Sadiq Khan of caving into “a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice.”

This is likely a reference to London’s incumbent black cab drivers, who are largely critical of what they claim as unfair competition from Uber. A major point of contention is the fact that Uber drivers don’t have to take “the knowledge” — the tough test that examines how well a driver knows the city. They also argue that Uber is undermining the trade by undercutting them on price.

The London Taxi Drivers’ Association is predictably pleased with the decision, with General Secretary Steve McNamara saying TfL had “made the right call.” In a statement, he said:

Since it first came onto our streets Uber has broken the law, exploited its drivers and refused to take responsibility for the safety of passengers. We expect Uber will again embark on a spurious legal challenge against the Mayor and TfL, and we will urge the court to uphold this decision.

This immoral company has no place on London’s streets.

Shortly after the announcement from TfL, Khan issued a statement on his Facebook page:

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.

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.

Any operator of private hire services in London needs to play by the rules.

Separately, Uber has confirmed that its UberEATS food delivery service will not be impacted by TfL’s decision. Speaking to UK daily The Metro, an Uber spokesperson said: ‘The licence only applies to private-hire operations as it’s granted by Transport for London so UberEATS is not impacted by the licence – or lack of.’

This story is breaking. Refresh for updates.

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