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July 2018

Uber granted 15-month probationary license in London England after 2017 rejection for not being ‘fit and proper’ operator

by Mike Beggs

In a pivotal decision pertaining to Uber’s future in a key global market, Transport for London (TfL) granted the U.S. ridesharing giant a 15-month probationary license, at a July 26 court hearing.

Despite its popularity amongst Londoners, TfL had refused to renew Uber’s license last September, declaring it not a “fit and proper” operator, citing concerns about safety, operations, and working conditions for its drivers.

However, at the conclusion of the two-day case – after hearing about the implementation of several new measures -- Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said she now considers Uber to be “fit and proper”. She also said the company’s choice of a former banking executive as chair of its UK operations weighed heavily into her decision.

She also ordered Uber to pay 450,000 pounds in court charges.

“Uber has been put on probation – their 15-month lease has a clear set of conditions that Tfl will thoroughly monitor, and enforce,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan told the BBC, afterward.

“No matter how big you are, you must play by the rules.”

Safety has been at the heart of TfL concerns, with reports of at least one sexual assault per week by an Uber driver, and many such crimes apparently going unreported. Uber claims to have made “wholesale changes” since then. Most significantly it will now report crimes directly to the police rather than filing criminal complaints with TfL, and has added a panic button to its app.

At the hearing, the mood of Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s world tour of apology apparently won the day. Its lawyer Thomas de La Mare told the court, “The onus is on us. We accept that the TfL’s decision (in September of 2017) was the right decision at the time”.

Afterward, Uber UK general manager Tom Elvidge told The Verge, “We are pleased with today’s decision, and Uber will continue to work with TfL to address their concerns and earn their trust, while providing the best possible service to our customers.”

Uber must now supply TfL with an independently–verified audit of its operations every six months, and has introduced a limit on driver hours.

It was a big win for Uber, which regards the vast London market as the gateway to all of Europe, where it has faced stern opposition in several nations.

But its’ critics noted that, just like in cities the world over, Uber London has stopped short of installing tougher driver background checks, and mandatory in-car cameras.

Last September, TfL voiced 25 concerns including failing to report crimes, and skipping background checks on drivers. And at that time Khan stressed, “Providing an innovative service must not be at the expense of customer safety and security.”

Many outside observes voiced concerns that this big win for Uber will affect the outcome of similar hearings coming up in UK cities like Bristol, Kent and Birmingham, and indeed echo across Europe, and the rest of the world.

London taxi drivers were demanding “fair competition” after the hearing.

To Mississauga plate owner Peter Pellier the decision came as no surprise. And he expects Uber’s probationary license will be upgraded to permanent.

With 3.3 million regular customers in the London area, he notes, “the stakes were high, even for a global pariah like Uber”, prompting the company’s conciliatory tone at the hearing, and willingness to work more closely with its regulator.

With this landmark ruling, he says, “The message here is clear. Uber isn’t going anywhere, whether in London or any other major centre in which it operates.”

Of the decision, Toronto owner/operator Gerry Manley alleges, “(Uber) certainly seems to have a stranglehold on government, no matter where they go. And if they don’t win, they keep complaining afterwards until they do win.”

For his part, Oakville owner/operator Al Prior expressed disappointment that, “The truth, for some reason, is evading the politicians and regulators of London, England, the home of the most efficient taxi regulators in the world.”

Toronto taxi industry pundit Rita Smith was “disgusted” that London would grant Uber even a temporary license, in light of the high incidence of sexual assaults by Uber drivers over the past few years.

“It’s really destroying your faith in politicians. Clearly, they’re more concerned about themselves (and keeping Uber happy than public safety). It’s just crazy, ” she alleges. “It’s open season on women.”

Of Uber’s improved safety measures,” she scoffs, “Come on. They said they were insured in Toronto for three years, before anybody even extended an offer of insuring them.”

Toronto owner Bob Boyd suggests this decision could easily lead to court action, on the part of London taxi operators.

“I think London has made a big mistake,” he comments. “I don’t think the regulated transportation industry will stand for this. I think the tide will come in, but it will go back out again. There will be court cases. They have a different attitude in Europe.”

And pointing to cities like Toronto, where Uber has been basically granted self-regulation, along with a series of less stringent regulations than cabs, he warns, “You just can’t let things get completely out of control.”

Meanwhile , the Daily Mail once again raised the issue of alleged ties between former Prime Minister David Cameron’s office and Uber in 2015, when then London Mayor Boris Johnson was pushing to tighten up the rules on Uber.

On June 26, the Glasgow Cab Section tweeted out that, “The impartiality of the legal system in the Uber file took another blow today. Emma Arbuthnot gave Uber its London license back this afternoon. She’s married to Tory MP David Arbuthnot. He was made a life peer by David Cameron in 2015.”

Back in April of 2017, The Guardian reported that the Information Commissioner’s Office was investigating claims that Cameron tried to protect Uber from the tougher regulations Johnson was proposing.

At that time, a string of London Labour MP’s and the taxi industry were demanding a full inquiry into the relationship between 10 Downing Street and Uber, which employed Rachel Whetstone, the wife of Cameron’s former chief strategist Steve Hilton, as its policy chief.

 

2018 Taxi News

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