It has taken almost a year but a judge has supported Uber London Limited’s appeal over the Nov-2019 decision from Transport for London’s (TfL) not to grant the company a new private hire operator’s licence to serve the UK capital. The original TfL announcement last year was based on findings that the company allowed unauthorised drivers to pick up passengers by uploading their photos to other Uber driver accounts. The regulator claims this occurred in at least 14,000 journeys.
This was not the first time TfL decided not to renew Uber’s license, and as per now it took nine months before a judge granted it a new permit. Although Uber has won for a second time the uncertainty has offered others the chance to take advantage of the circumstances to build their own presence in the London market.
Westminster magistrates court ruled in favour of Uber after hearing three days of arguments this month. The deputy chief magistrate, Tan Ikram, said he had “sufficient confidence” that Uber London Ltd “no longer poses a risk to public safety … despite historical failings”. He acknowledged especially that Uber had tightened up review processes to tackle document and insurance fraud and it now “seems to be at the forefront of tackling an industry-wide challenge”.
The new 18-month licence will come with 21 conditions, proposed jointly by TfL and Uber, which Uber argues should be a baseline for all similar services in London. This is a big win for Uber in a significant market. However, it will remain closely monitored for any future failings.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “I can assure Londoners that TfL will continue to closely monitor Uber and will not hesitate to take swift action should they fail to meet the strict standards required to protect passengers.”
Uber argues that it has fundamentally changed in the three years since TfL first refused it a licence, in Sep-2017, a time when the transport company deemed it was not “fit or proper” to operate in the capital. The provisional extension to its licence that it won on appeal was the one that was refused in Nov-2019 over the identity concerns.
Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood, acknowledged the company’s failings: “It was not what we would do now. It was inadequate, we could have done better,” he explained.
It is clear that the Judge’s ruling has not pleases everyone. Uber’s 45,000 drivers registered in London finally have some clarity having continued to work pending the appeal. Many Londoners are big supporters of the platform and many corporates are signed-up to Uber’s business programme.
Meanwhile, the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association have described the ruling as a “disaster for London,” stating that Uber “has demonstrated time and time again that it simply can’t be trusted to put the safety of Londoners, its drivers and other road users above profit. It sadly believes in its eyes that “Uber is too big to regulate effectively but too big to fail”.
Uber has escaped another bullet in the key London market, but the gun remains loaded and it is clear that it could again be fighting another major court battle if it deviates away from the conditions set in this ruling and cannot maintain a good record. It has to prove that it really has changed from the company that it was previously, all under the watchful eye of regulator with a point to prove.