Half a million sign Uber's petition to keep London licence

Uber's arrival in London in 2012 created a clash almost immediately with the city's famed black cabs, which trace their roots back to 1634.
Uber's arrival in London in 2012 created a clash almost immediately with the city's famed black cabs, which trace their roots back to 1634.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Permit to expire on Sept 30 but firm can operate while appealing

LONDON • A petition organised by Uber against London's decision not to renew its operating licence gathered more than 500,000 signatures yesterday, a day after the decision was announced.

The "Save Your Uber" campaign was set up on the Change.org website after London's transport regulator deemed Uber unfit to run a taxi service and stripped it of its licence from Sept 30.

The petition calls on London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who also acts as chairman of Transport for London (TfL), to reverse the decision to withdraw Uber's licence to operate ride-hailing services in the city.

The British regulator said it would let Uber operate until the appeals process is exhausted, which could take months.

"Uber's approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications," TfL said.

Specifically, it cited Uber's approach to reporting serious criminal offences, background checks on drivers as well as software called Greyball that could be used to block regulators from gaining full access to the app.

LET'S COOPERATE

Dear London: we r far from perfect but we have 40k licensed drivers and 3.5mm Londoners depending on us. Pls work w/us to make things right.

MR DARA KHOSROWSHAHI, Uber CEO, in a tweet.

The TfL decision was backed by the British capital's thousands of black cab drivers.

A ban on operating in one of its largest markets would hit Uber's bottom line. The company said it had 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million customers in London who used its app at least once every three months.

In a break with the start-up's usual combative tone, Uber's new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi yesterday asked London to work with the ride service.

He wrote in a tweet: "Dear London: we r far from perfect but we have 40k licensed drivers and 3.5mm Londoners depending on us. Pls work w/us to make things right."

In an e-mail to Uber employees, Mr Khosrowshahi said he thought the London decision was unfair, but "the truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation".

He added that "it's critical that we act with integrity in everything we do, and learn how to be a better partner to every city we operate in".

Mr Khosrowshahi was brought in to steer the company after a string of scandals involving allegations of sexism and bullying.

But Uber London general manager Tom Elvidge made a combative response, saying the London Mayor and regulators had "caved in" to people who want to restrict consumer choice. He added that Uber would challenge the decision in court.

Uber, which is valued at about US$70 billion (S$95 billion) and whose investors include Goldman Sachs, has faced protests around the world for shaking up long-established taxi markets.

It has also been forced to quit several countries, including Denmark and Hungary, and faces regulatory battles in multiple US states and around the world.

Uber debuted in London in 2012, just before the Summer Olympics, initially with a luxury service. It added UberX, which competes more directly with the city's storied black cabs, a year later. The company now operates in more than 40 cities and towns across Britain.

Its arrival in London created a clash almost immediately with the city's famed black cabs, which trace their roots back to 1634. Black cab drivers complain that Uber drivers are under-regulated. Many also fear the rivalry will put them out of business: Uber fares are about 30 per cent lower than those of black cabs.

REUTERS, NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 24, 2017, with the headline 'Half a million sign Uber's petition to keep London licence'. Print Edition | Subscribe