Major blow for Uber as it loses London operations licence

22 Sep 2017

Uber's future in London looks precarious. Image: Ink Drop/Shutterstock

A critical hit after London transport body denies renewal of Uber’s licence.

In a shock announcement this morning, Transport for London (TfL) found Uber London Limited is “not fit and proper to hold a private hire licence”.

The statement from TfL mentioned a “lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications”.

TfL took issue with the ride-sharing company’s approach to the reporting of serious criminal offences, its approach regarding the procurement of medical certificates, and its approach to how Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service checks are obtained.

Controversial ‘Greyball’ software

Uber’s use of Greyball, software that could be used to impede regulators and law enforcement from getting unfettered access to the app, was also cited by TfL as a red flag that contributed to the licence withdrawal.

According to a report from Reuters, the city of Portland, Oregon found that Uber used Greyball to ignore or cancel requests from locations near law enforcement agencies and from credit cards believed to be owned by government workers: “Uber used Greyball to evade government officials in areas where its service had not yet been approved, such as Portland, Boston, Paris and Las Vegas, and in countries such as Australia, China, Italy and South Korea.”

Labour MP Wes Streeting made a statement on Twitter about the “courageous decision” made by TfL.

Sexual assault allegations

32 allegations of sexual assault against Uber London fleet drivers we made public in May 2016, according to The Independent. The claims were made in a 12-month period, equal to one assault every 11 days.

In January, driver Aliriza Kurt was arrested for inappropriately touching a young woman after she hailed his car, and was jailed for 18 months.

Uber drivers in the UK capital will be permitted to accept new rides until 30 September.

Sadiq Khan speaks

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “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.”

Uber said the decision will “show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies”.

“3.5m 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,” the company added.

“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.”

Uber image via Ink Drop/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects