Uber has won an appeal against Transport for London’s decision not to renew the ride-hailing app biz’s licence for the English capital, ending a three-year tussle between the pair.
The ruling is the culmination of a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that ran a fortnight ago from 14 to 17 September, with deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram declaring today: “Despite [Uber’s] historical failings, I find them, now, to be a fit and proper person to hold a London PHV (private hire vehicle) operator’s licence.”
He added that he did, however, “wish to hear from the advocates on conditions and on my determination as to the length of a licence”.
Uber had itself wanted a five-year licence but, as things stand, has an 18-month license.
The company has yet to comment publicly.
The head-to-head between Uber and TfL kicked off in September 2017 when the authority said private operators needed to meet “rigorous regulations” that are “designed to ensure passenger safety”, and Uber had fallen short of these.
This related to a hole in Uber’s systems that allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their pictures to official drivers’ accounts. Thousands of passenger journeys were undertaken in which the passenger thought their driver was someone else and that driver was not insured. Trips were also made by drivers TfL had previously banned as another hole in the system allowed them to create new accounts with Uber.
The way enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks were carried out had also concerned TfL, and the authority claimed Uber had failed to detail its use of Greyball software that could block regulatory bodies from getting full access to its app.
Tim Ward, QC for Uber London Ltd, said during the court proceedings that the company had made technical improvements, including to its governance and document systems.
Judge Ikram said that Uber had presented “no real challenge to the facts as presented by TfL” but he reckoned Uber “challenged the suggestion that breaches were not taken seriously and any suggestion of bad faith on their part”.
He added that in respect of document and insurance fraud, “Uber now seem to be at the forefront of tackling an industry-wide challenge.”
Unsurprisingly, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) branded today’s decision a “disaster”.
“Uber has demonstrated time and time again that it simply can’t be trusted to put the safety of Londoners, its driver and other road users above profit. Sadly, it seems that Uber is too big to regulate effectively, but too big to fail.
“By holding up their hands and finally accepting some responsibility, Uber has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the court and create the false impressions that it has changed for the better. A leopard doesn’t change its spots and we are clear that Uber’s underlying culture remains as toxic as it has ever been.”
The App Drivers and Couriers Union (ADCU) claimed the decision had secured the jobs of 43,000 drivers employed by Uber, but it wants to see Uber and TfL learn lessons from the case.
“Uber drivers pay the company 25 per cent of every fare and in return are entitled to expect the company to operate the business in a safe and compliant manner,” said Yaseen Aslam, ADCU president. “Instead Uber has put profit first and placed the livelihood of 43,000 workers at risk.
“It is time for the Mayor of London to break up the Uber monopoly by limiting the number of drivers allowed to register on the Uber platform. The reduced scale will give both Uber and Transport for London the breathing space necessary to ensure all compliance obligations – including workers’ rights – are met in the future.”
Following TfL’s 2017 rejection of Uber’s operator’s licence applications, the biz was granted a 15-month provisional licence in June 2018, and a further two months were granted in September 2019 before TfL decided in November last year that Uber shouldn’t get that licence back. ®
Updated on 28 September at 12.13 BST to add
Following publication of this article, Jamie Heywood, Uber regional general manager for Northern & Eastern Europe, told us: “This decision is a recognition of Uber’s commitment to safety and we will continue to work constructively with TfL. There is nothing more important than the safety of the people who use the Uber app as we work together to keep London moving.”