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Uber stripped of private hire taxi license in London

Transport for London bans ride-sharing service from the capital. Cabbies rejoice…

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News that could change the face of London roads: Uber’s been banned. The American smartphone app - which connects users with local private-hire taxi drivers - will not have its license to operate in London renewed after 30 September 2017, subject to an appeal. The writing was one the wall after Uber was only granted a four-month license extension back in May 2017.

Transport for London, the authority that oversees everything from London’s traffic lights to its tube network, has slammed Uber’s “lack of corporate responsibility”, and says “TfL has concluded Uber London Limited is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license.”

Specifically, TfL called out Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences in its cars, its approach to awarding its drivers licenses, the medical certification of its drivers and an alleged use of ‘Greyball’ software that blocks regulatory bodies from accessing the app.

Interestingly, there’s no mention of congestion in the report. Uber’s argument has long been that its popularity reduces the less efficient use of private cars, so there’s a net reduction in the number of cars on the road. Uber has vehemently argued that its users don’t conform to the usual ‘rush hour’ model, with a quarter of all Uber trips happening between 12am and 5am. That’s obviously when London roads are at their quietest and up until recently, the Underground didn’t operate at all.

However, the number of private-hire vehicles flooding into London’s archaic road network has been unprecedented. Uber says the figure leapt by 87,000 between 2010 and 2017 – while the Department for Transport puts the number, including Uber’s rivals, north of 120,000. Journey times in the capital are reputedly 12 per cent slower than they were before the advent of Uber, with TfL’s bus ride revenues and black cab business both reporting huge downturns. 

Meanwhile, second-hand values of hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Honda Insight have leapt as drivers clamour to take advantage of the app’s stellar popularity. Cancelling Uber’s license will have far more expansive consequences than pleasing London’s army of black cabbies in their long-fought tirade against ride-sharing apps, but proponents of the ban point to Uber’s insistence the drivers are self-employed rather than employees, and therefore not subject to the same pay and conditions protections as more regulated bodies. 

Uber has responded with this stinging statement:  “3.5 million 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.

“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. 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. 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. Drivers who use Uber are licensed by Transport for London and have been through the same enhanced DBS background checks as black cab drivers.”

Uber closed its retory with this parting shot: “[the TFL ban] shows the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies”.

Jennette Arnold OBE AM, Chair of the London Assembly, said: “We welcome Transport for London’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence. The London Assembly unanimously agreed for the licence not to be renewed, unless the company improved its working practices. Londoners’ safety must come first and the Assembly was concerned about the effects of Uber’s practices on its own drivers, other private hire operators and the London licenced taxi trade. If Uber wants to operate in London in the future, it really must up its game, in terms of safety and its working conditions.”

How Londoners will take to the ban of the convenient but controversial taxi service remains to be seen. Uber is cheap and quick, but the track record of its operational behaviour is extremely murky, as evidenced by TfL’s damning report. Uber has 21 days to appeal the ban, during which time it can continue to operate its London-based services. 

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