On November 25, Uber lost its license in London to carry paying passengers; this is the second time this has occurred in about two years. It is awaiting an appeal for a ‘pattern of failures’ on safety and security. The appeal process will most likely take months and require court action; meaning Uber’s 45,000 drivers will still be making trips despite losing its license. London is a key market outside of the United States for Uber.
Transport for London (TfL), the transportation regulator in London, first suspended Uber’s license in 2017 over safety concerns. Since then, Uber claimed that it made a lot of changes in London to the way it operates. Afterwards, Uber was granted two temporary licenses, one for 15 months issued by a court and the other for two months issued by TfL. The latter extension expired and will not be renewed by TfL; Uber is appealing the latest decision.
TfL stated it has “identified a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk… While Uber has worked to address these issues, they highlight the potential safety risk to passengers of weak systems and processes… 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.” It is TfL’s lack of confidence that Uber will be able to satisfy these safety measures and its repeated history of safety issues that have caused TfL to not renew Uber’s license in London.
Reuters quoted TfL as stating that “Unauthorized drivers were able to upload their photos to others’ accounts so that, on over 14,000 trips, a driver other than the advertised one picked up passengers.”
Additionally, TfL discovered that dismissed or suspended drivers were able to create Uber accounts and carry passengers. BBC reported that, “[i]n one example, a driver was able to continue working for Uber, despite the fact his private hire licence had been revoked after he was cautioned for distributing indecent images of children.” This also poses a safety concern.
In response to TfL’s decision, Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber CEO, tweeted: “We understand we’re held to a high bar, as we should be. But this TfL decision is just wrong. Over the last 2 years we have fundamentally changed how we operate in London.”
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, supported TfL’s decision. He tweeted, “I know this decision may be unpopular with Uber users but their safety is the paramount concern.”
TfL further stressed the importance of safety in regards to its decision. “Safety is our absolute top priority,” Helen Chapman, Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging at TfL, said. “While we recognise Uber has made improvements, it is unacceptable that Uber has allowed passengers to get into minicabs with drivers who are potentially unlicensed and uninsured…It is clearly concerning that these issues arose, but it is also concerning that we cannot be confident that similar issues won’t happen again in future.”
In addition to concerns in London, Uber has faced regulation pressure globally over driver treatment, competition and safety. In 2017, Uber left Denmark because of new laws that required drivers to have fare meters and seat sensors. Uber no longer operates in Bulgaria and Hungry after pressure from local taxi unions and this May, Uber pulled its UberXL in Turkey without explanation.
In the United States, recent incidents include the death of a USC student and 103 drivers who were accused of sexual assault in 2018. Although New York City’s crackdown capping the number of ride-hail drivers has been dismissed, cities like Chicago are issuing an additional tax during peak times, especially where other transit options are available. It is likely that Uber and its peers will continue to fight its regulatory battles on a city-by-city basis.