Uber prepared to make concessions for London licence

US start-up's concessions likely to involve passenger safety, drivers' benefits and pay

LONDON • United States taxi firm Uber is prepared to make concessions as it seeks to reverse a decision by the London authorities not to renew its licence in the city, which represents a potentially big blow for the fast-growing company.

Reporting this, The Sunday Times also quoted sources close to London's transport body as saying the move was encouraging and suggested the possibility of talks.

"While we haven't been asked to make any changes, we'd like to know what we can do," Mr Tom Elvidge, Uber's general manager in London, told the newspaper.

The Sunday Times said Uber's concessions were likely to involve passenger safety and benefits for its drivers, possible limits on working hours to improve road safety and holiday pay.

Transport for London (TfL) stunned the US start-up on Friday when it deemed Uber unfit to run a taxi service for safety reasons and stripped it of its licence from Sept 30, although the company can continue to operate while it appeals.

The regulator cited failures to report serious criminal offences, conduct sufficient background checks on drivers and other safety issues.

Uber responded by urging users in London to sign a petition that said the city authorities had "caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice".

By 2200 GMT on Saturday (6am Singapore time yesterday), more than 600,000 people had signed although it was not clear how many of them were in London. A Uber spokesman said around 20,000 of its drivers had e-mailed the city's mayor to object to the decision.

To Uber riders, The Times newspaper said: "TfL will look as if it bowed down to pressure from the capital's infamously protective black cabs."

The TfL is headed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, a leading figure in the opposition Labour Party, who said last Friday that "all private-hire operators in London need to play by the rules". However, The Times said, "the timing of the decision is undeniably suspect" .

"Mr Khan has just been told that he will be given a platform at the Labour Party conference and TfL's decision is sure to earn him a rousing endorsement from an audience of activists and trade unionists."

The TfL was immediately rebuked by Mr Greg Hands, a Conservative Party politician and British minister for London.

London's decision is the first major challenge for new Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over from co-founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick.

So far, Mr Khosrowshahi has adopted a softer tone to the crisis in London than his predecessor did in similar situations. "Dear London: we (are) far from perfect," Mr Khosrowshahi tweeted on Friday. But he noted that 40,000 drivers and millions of riders were dependent on the service. "Please work with us to make things right."

Although the conclusion of the ruling may take some time to play out in UK courts, rivals are already circling Uber users. Daimler AG-owned Mytaxi, a black cab hailing app, was offering half-off fares last Friday.

REUTERS, XINHUA, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2017, with the headline 'Uber prepared to make concessions for London licence'. Print Edition | Subscribe