TfL rejects Uber’s latest private hire operator licence application


Citing safety as its number one priority, Transport for London (TfL) has announced that it will not grant Uber London Limited a new private hire operator’s licence in response to its latest application to continue its ridesharing service in the UK capital.

As the regulator of taxi and private hire services in London, TfL is required to make a decision on Uber’s fitness and propriety before its current licence expires. TfL says Uber has made a number of positive changes and improvements to its culture, leadership and systems in the period since the Chief Magistrate granted it a licence in June 2018, including interacting with TfL in a transparent and productive manner. However, the agency has identified a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk. Despite addressing some of these issues, TfL does not have confidence that similar issues will not reoccur in the future, which has led it to conclude that the company is not fit and proper at this time.

In September Uber was granted a two-month licence as further information was required on these issues, some of which emerged late in the process of its reapplication. A key issue identified was that a change to Uber’s systems allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts, which allowed them to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver. This meant that at least 14,000 journeys were uninsured, and some trips took place with unlicensed drivers, one of which had previously had their licence revoked by TfL. Another failure allowed dismissed or suspended drivers to create an Uber account and carry passengers. Although TfL recognised the steps that Uber had put in place to prevent this type of activity, the agency is concerned that the company’s systems seem to have been comparatively easily manipulated.

“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,” explained Helen Chapman, TfL’s director of licensing, regulation and charging. “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.”

However, there will be no immediate change for the 3.5 million riders that use the Uber app in London, nor the company’s 45,000 TfL-licensed drivers. Uber has announced that it is going to appeal the TfL decision so a magistrate will have to decide whether it is fit to hold a licence in London, or not. A decision from a magistrate’s court could take weeks or months and unless the court decides otherwise, Uber will retain its licence during this period.

Uber said the decision was, ‘extraordinary and wrong’ and that it had audited every driver in London over the last two months and further strengthened its processes. Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted, “We understand we’re held to a high bar, as we should be. But this TfL decision is just wrong. Over the last two years we have fundamentally changed how we operate in London. We have come very far, and will keep going, for the millions of drivers and riders who rely on us.”

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Adam joined the company in 1994, and has been News Editor of TTT since 2009. In his other role as Circulation Manager, he helped create the original Traffic Technology International distribution list 23 years ago, and has been working on it ever since. Outside of work, he is a keen fisherman, runs a drumming band, and plays an ancient version of cricket.