Uber's London licence revoked

PHOTO: EPA-EFE

Surprise ruling could push regulators elsewhere to do the same

LONDON • Uber Technologies’ licence to operate in London was revoked yesterday, a surprise decision that will affect the 3.5 million people and 40,000 drivers who use the app in the British city.

The city’s regulator, Transport for London, said it denied the licence because Uber’s “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility”. The licence will expire on Sept 30, although the company has 21 days to appeal the ruling, and can carry on operating during the appeal process.

“We intend to immediately challenge this in the courts,” said Mr Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in London. If the decision stands, it will have a considerable impact on the company’s global business. London is one of Uber’s most established markets. 

City officials cited Uber’s use of a secret software tool called Greyball that the company built to avoid regulators. Uber was also faulted for not properly reporting crimes and obtaining medical certificates.

The decision is a victory for the city’s traditional black cab industry, which has been hurt by the proliferation of Uber drivers and has pushed for tighter regulation of the San Francisco-based ride-hailing service. Taxi drivers must go through extensive testing before receiving a licence, while Uber drivers have fewer requirements.

“I fully support TfL’s decision,” said London’s mayor Sadiq Khan. “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.”

London’s decision adds to the problems facing Mr Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new chief executive officer, who is juggling a host of controversies ranging from a lawsuit alleging the company stole self-driving car technology from Alphabet to a bribery investigation in Asia, and a boorish company culture.

THREAT TO SAFETY

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.

LONDON MAYOR SADIQ KHAN, referring to the decision by Transport for London to deny Uber an operating licence.

DOWNSIDE TO DECISION

If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport.

GENERAL MANAGER OF UBER IN LONDON TOM ELVIDGE

Uber has faced protests and resistance in many markets around the world, but London’s ruling is one of the most aggressive steps taken by regulators against the popular service. The decision may also embolden regulators in other countries to take a tougher stand.

Ms Maria Ludkin, legal director of GMB, the UK’s drivers union, said: “No doubt other major cities will be looking at this decision and considering Uber’s future on their own streets.”

The city’s regulators and political leaders risk a backlash from customers who have come to rely on Uber’s service, which is often cheaper and more convenient than hailing a black cab.

“By wanting to ban our app from the capital, Transport for London and the Mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice,” said Mr Elvidge.

“If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport.”

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2017, with the headline 'Uber's London licence revoked'. Print Edition | Subscribe