Uber loses licence to operate in London

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Having previously been denied a licence in September 2017 followed by a legal battle leading to a reprieve, ridesharing service Uber has lost its licence to operate in the UK’s capital, with the regulator citing concerns over passenger safety. Its hopes of securing a long-term licence evaporated in September when TfL issued a two-month temporary licence, which expired on Monday 25 November.

TfL refused to renew the licence, in a decision which the company called ‘extraordinary and wrong.’ However, Uber will not cease to operate immediately, and has 21 days to appeal the decision. If it chooses to do so, it will be allowed to operate during the appeals process. The service is reported to use 45,000 drivers.

The Telegraph reported that the licence renewal had been denied by the regulator due to breaches relating to driver identity checks, which it said affected 14,000 trips. Issues included drivers uploading fake photographs, or swapping accounts, it said.

The regulator told the Telegraph: “Uber has made a number of positive changes and improvements to its culture, leadership and systems… However, TfL has identified a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk. A key issue identified was that a change to Uber’s systems allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts. This allowed them to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver, which occurred in at least 14,000 trips.”

As a result, the trips were not insured, and in some cases took place by drivers who were unlicensed using a fake account. In one case, a driver who had already been banned continued to operate using a fake account.

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s Regional General Manager for Northern & Eastern Europe, told the newspaper: “TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence in London is extraordinary and wrong, and we will appeal.”

James Farrar, Private Hire Drivers Chair at the IWGB union, told the newspaper the decision was a ‘hammer blow’ to its 50,000 drivers and accused TfL of an ‘inability’ to run a stable regime and Uber’s ‘refusal’ to play by the rules. Meanwhile, Steve Garelick, Regional Organiser at the GMB union, said: “The damage that Uber has caused to honest private hire and taxi drivers as well as ignoring worker rights shows that times must change.”

Helen Chapman, Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging at TfL, said: “While we recognise Uber has made improvements, it is unacceptable that Uber has allowed passengers to get into minicabs with drivers who are potentially unlicensed and uninsured.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I know this decision may be unpopular with Uber users, but their safety is the paramount concern. Regulations are there to keep Londoners safe.”

Uber announced that it would be bringing in a new facial matching process and would improve checks on drivers. In September, the ride-sharing platform outlined its safety features on its website: “There is nothing more important than the safety of the customers and the cities we serve. To use the Uber app in the UK, drivers must hold a valid private hire licence from a local authority in their region, which includes an Enhanced DBS background check. Since TfL raised concerns in 2017, we have introduced a number of new features, strengthened our systems and processes and partnered with safety organisations to lead and support important campaigns,” it said.