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Uber loses licence to operate in London after transport authority finds it not ‘fit and proper’

Ride hailing service Uber has been stripped of its licence in London — for the second time — after the city’s transport authority found that at least 14,000 trips were taken with drivers who had faked their identity on Uber’s app. Transport for London (TfL) said that Uber is not a “fit and proper” company to operate in the city. Uber has confirmed that it will appeal the decision, and hasn’t categorically denied TfL’s accusations. London is among Uber’s top 5 markets globally, with about 45,000 drivers in the city. MediaNama has reached out to Uber for comment.

Why this matters: The company has been here before. TfL had previously rejected Uber’s licence renewal in September 2017 but, in September 2018, an appeals court granted Uber a 15-month provisional licence. Then in September 2019, its licence was renewed by 2 more months even though Uber was looking to secure a 5-year long licence. This renewal came after TfL placed imposed some conditions on the cab aggregator such as reporting criminal passenger complaints to the Metropolitan Police and adding three non-executive directors to its board.

TfL’s issues with Uber: The transport regulator said that it has identified a “pattern of failures” by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk. It is concerned that Uber’s systems seem to have been easily manipulated, and TfL doesn’t have the “confidence” that such issues will not happen again in the future.

  • It found that unauthorised drivers could upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts, meaning that all these trips were “uninsured”.
  • Some passenger journeys took place with unlicenced drivers, one of whom had previously had their licence revoked by TfL.
  • Another failure allowed dismissed or suspended drivers to create an Uber account and carry passengers, again compromising passenger safety and security.

“This pattern of regulatory breaches led TfL to commission an independent assessment of Uber’s ability to prevent incidents of this nature happening again. This work has led TfL to conclude that it currently does not have confidence that Uber has a robust system for protecting passenger safety, while managing changes to its app.” — TfL

Does that mean no Uber cars in London now? No. Uber now has 21 days to appeal, during which it can continue to operate. Uber may seek to implement changes to demonstrate to a magistrate that it is fit and proper by the time of the appeal. In the meantime, TfL will continue to closely scrutinise Uber so that changes made to the app do not put passengers’ safety at risk.

Reactions: Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi called TfL’s decision “wrong”:

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London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan said that he supports TfL’s decision, and while there is place for innovative companies in the city, they need to “play by the rules” and keep their customers safe.

Labour Party’s Jeremy Corbyn also said that “we want innovation but not at the expense of people’s safety”.

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Jamie Heywood, Regional General Manager, UK, Northern & Eastern Europe at Uber told BBC that TFL’s decision is “exceptional and wrong”. He added that Uber had notified TfL of the vulnerability that allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos in May this year and then implemented a technical fix that closed the vulnerability that existed in the first place and then did a complete audit of every single driver in London to make sure that actually all of the documentation was right. “The issue couldn’t come up again,” he said.

TfL’s Helen Chapman said that the regulator “cannot be confident that similar issues won’t happen again in future”. She acknowledged that Uber has made some improvements, but “it is unacceptable that Uber has allowed passengers to get into minicabs with drivers who are potentially unlicensed and uninsured”.

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Also Read: California Senate passes a bill to restructure gig economy; Uber, Lyft oppose it

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