London Once Again Declines Uber’s Renewal Licence Over Safety Concern

London-based transport regulator has declined Uber once again of a total renewal by claiming it had found a “pattern of failures” which put “passenger safety and security at risk”. The declaration comes after a couple of months of being given a two-month reprieve on its licence to operate in the city.

Uber said that it will appeal the decision. London is considered as a major European market for Uber as it has 3.5 million users and 45,000 registered drivers in the city. The problem in the UK capital with Uber started in 2017 when Transport of London (TfL) suddenly denied its license renewal citing several concerns. It included how Uber reported criminal offences, carried out checking background on drivers and its use of proprietary software it developed that could be used to block regulatory oversight.

In its statement, TfL says against uber that the company is not “fit and proper” to hold a private hire vehicle licence. It also claimed that it has identified thousands of regulatory breaches with a key issue being a change to Uber’s systems that allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts.

TfL writes, “This allowed [unauthorised drivers] to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver, which occurred in at least 14,000 trips — putting passenger safety and security at risk.”

“This means all the journeys were uninsured and some passenger journeys took place with unlicensed drivers, one of which had previously had their licence revoked by TfL.”

One more safety and security failure has been identified by it which is the permission given to dismissed or suspended drivers to create an Uber account and carry passengers.

“TfL recognises the steps that Uber has put in place to prevent this type of activity. However, it is a concern that Uber’s systems seem to have been comparatively easily manipulated,” it adds.

Since the company was given a 15-month provisional licence by a magistrate in June 2018, “a number of positive changes and improvements to [Uber’s] culture, leadership and systems,” highlighted TfL.

It further mentioned that the company has interacted with TfL in “a transparent and productive manner” but concluded saying it can’t ignore the risks posed by “a pattern of failures” from “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 says.

However, during the appeal procedure, Uber can continue to operate in London. So in the term, the passengers will see no change shortly. TfL says Uber has 21 days to file an appeal.

The company may also seek to implement changes during the ongoing appeal process to demonstrate to a magistrate that it is fit and proper by the time of the appeal hearing. So there is a possibility that Uber may gain another provisional licence in future if it improves its systems.

TfL said, “Particular attention will be paid to ensuring that the management have robust controls in place to manage changes to the Uber app so that passenger safety is not put at risk.”

Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London made tweet supporting TfL’s decision, said that while it may be unpopular with Uber users their safety is “the paramount concern”.

Helen Chapman, the director of licensing, regulation and charging at TfL stated, “Safety is our absolute top priority. 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. If they choose to appeal, Uber will have the opportunity to publicly demonstrate to a magistrate whether it has put in place sufficient measures to ensure potential safety risks to passengers are eliminated. If they do appeal, Uber can continue to operate and we will closely scrutinise the company to ensure the management has robust controls in place to ensure safety is not compromised during any changes to the app.”

Uber’s CEO Dara Khosrowshahi also tweeted a response to TfL’s decision, dubbing it “wrong”.

“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. We have come very far — and we will keep going, for the millions of drivers and riders who rely on us.”

Uber’s regional general manager for Northern & Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood considered TfL’s decision as “extraordinary and wrong”.

“We have fundamentally changed our business over the last two years and are setting the standard on safety. TfL found us to be a fit and proper operator just two months ago, and we continue to go above and beyond,” he said.

“On behalf of the 3.5 million riders and 45,000 licensed drivers who depend on Uber in London, we will continue to operate as normal and will do everything we can to work with TfL to resolve this situation,” Jamie added.