Uber can keep operating in London despite ‘historical failings’ on passenger safety

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  • September 28, 2020
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Uber has won its legal bid to keep operating in London, despite concerns about passenger safety.

Deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram has ruled the company should be granted a new licence for the capital.

He declared that it was a ‘fit and proper’ company this morning after a four-day hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court earlier this month.

While recognising there had been ‘historical failures’ and the company had a ‘track-record of regulation breaches’, the judge said Uber had made efforts to address failings and had improved standards.

Uber initially had its application to renew its London licence rejected by Transport for London in November 2019. 

TfL said a ‘glitch’ in the app was allowing unauthorised drivers to upload their photographs to a legitimate account and pick up passengers. 

It argued this led to 24 drivers exploiting the flaw with the app’s GPS to share their accounts with 20 others, leading to 14,788 unauthorised rides.

The regulator said this was one of ‘several’ safety breaches that put users at risk. Uber argued the problems have been addressed.

The company has 45,000 drivers in London and 3.5 million customers, making the capital the ride-hailing app’s biggest market in Europe. 

Marie Demetriou QC, representing TfL, said there had been a ‘catalogue of errors’ in Uber’s management of the unauthorised drivers issue, including how they had raised it with TfL.

This was accepted as inadequate by Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood.

Representing Uber, Tim Ward QC said it had implemented ‘rigorous’ structural changes since the previous appeals, telling the court the company has moved on ‘considerably’.

He later argued that denying the company a licence would have a ‘profound effect’ on groups at risk of street harassment such as women and ethnic minorities, as well as disabled people.

‘London is a safer place with Uber in the market than without it,’ Mr Ward said.

It’s not the first time the Silicon Valley-based company has run into trouble with transport regulators. 

TfL previously rejected an application for a licence from Uber in September 2017 but a judge granted a short-term licence in 2018.

Black cab drivers have tried for years to get the company’s licence revoked. A submission to legal proceedings by the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association said they believe it is not a ‘fit and proper’ company. 

Judge Ikram was not asked to rule on whether TfL’s decision was correct, but whether Uber was suitable now for the licence.

He will now hear applications on the length of the new licence as well as what conditions should be imposed.

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