Uber avoids ban but only gains two-month licence in London

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
Uber has faced a battle with Transport for London over use of the ride-hailing app in London. Photo: Olly Curtis/Future via Getty Images via Getty Images

Uber has avoided a ban by transport chiefs in London, but has only been granted a two-month licence to continue operating in the capital.

Millions of Uber (UBER) users in London could have been left unable to use the taxi app if transport chiefs had refused to renew its licence over safety fears this week.

Transport for London (TfL), chaired by London mayor Sadiq Khan, imposed tighter rules to ensure passenger safety as it confirmed it had granted a two-month extension to Uber’s licence.

Uber’s current licence would have expired on Wednesday, but transport chiefs have granted the short extension to allow more time to analyse how Uber operates before making a longer-term decision.

The company pledged to “keep listening, learning and improving,” but said it had already made “fundamental changes” including improving safety standards.

But Steve Garelick, a regional officer at the GMB union, said Uber had been given "more chances than a game of Monopoly," and claimed TfL had simply “kicked the can down the road” without regard for passenger and drifer safety.

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A TfL spokesperson said: “Uber London Limited has been granted a two-month private hire operator licence to allow for scrutiny of additional information that we are requesting ahead of consideration of any potential further licensing application.”

New rules on ride-sharing, appropriate insurance for drivers and company checks on driver documents will be introduced, according to TfL.

The spokesperson added that the firm had been “improving its culture and governance” since TfL first sought to ban Uber two years ago.

The decision comes after a long-running battle between Uber and transport authorities in London, one of its biggest markets in the world.

The city’s mayor struck a combative tone when asked about Uber’s licence last month, telling LBC he had a track record of “standing up to the big boys, and they are boys, and make sure everyone plays by the rules.”

Labour mayor Sadiq Khan has criticised Uber. Photo: PA

The row began when TfL first announced a ban in September 2017, saying Uber had failed to pass its fit-and-proper person test and shown a “lack of corporate responsibility.”

Tfl accused Uber of failing to report criminal allegations made against drivers to the police, found fault with its criminal record and other checks on drivers and claimed it used software that could help it avoid regulation. The company had also faced criticism over working practices for drivers.

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The move sparked anger among users and Uber began a high-profile campaign against TfL, including a petition that gained more than 850,000 signatures.

Uber initially appealed the decision by disputing TfL’s claims, but court documents show it later accepted the ban had been justified and made changes to how it operated.

In July last year a judge granted Uber a temporary licence for 15 months that expires this month, saying its directors were “trying to change the corporate culture.”

She said Uber had committed to report cases to the police and agreed not use any tool to circumvent the regulators.

But the judge said individuals running Uber in the recent past had shown a “rather gung-ho attitude,” adding: “It was of concern that instead of accepting the blame it tried to whip up a public outcry whilst in fact Uber London Limited had brought the refusal of the renewal on itself.”

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TfL’s options on the latest decision included a five-year licence, a briefer one or an outright ban.

Tens of thousands of drivers could be forced to find other companies if TfL were to ban the ride-hailing app in the capital in two months’ time.

But Uber would be likely to continue to operate in the short-term while it appealed, as it did when it challenged a ban two years ago.

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern & Eastern Europe, said: “TfL’s recognition of our improved culture and governance reflects the progress we have made in London. We will continue to work closely with TfL and provide any additional requested information.

“Over the past two years, we’ve launched a range of new safety features in the app, introduced better protections for drivers and our Clean Air Plan is helping to tackle air pollution.

“We will keep listening, learning and improving to provide the best service while being a trusted partner to London.”