Life Travel

Uber in London? Highly Unlikely in the Near Future

Tower Bridge in London

In 2018, Uber experienced a few hiccups in London and Transport for London (TfL) advised the company to make the needed changes in order to continue service within the city.

Fast forward to this week, when after the 15-month extension expired, TfL announced that they will not grant Uber a new private hire operator’s license in response to Uber’s latest application.

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 license expires. Safety is TfL’s number one priority.

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 license in June 2018. This includes interacting with TfL in a transparent and productive manner.

However, TfL 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 license 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 unauthorized drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts.

This allowed them 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 license revoked by TfL.

Another failure allowed dismissed or suspended drivers to create an Uber account and carry passengers, again compromising passenger safety and security.

TfL recognizes 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.

Other serious breaches have also occurred, including several insurance-related issues. Some of these led TfL to prosecute Uber earlier this year for causing and permitting the use of vehicles without the correct hire or reward insurance in place.

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.

The legislation means that Uber now has 21 days to appeal, during which it can continue to operate pending an appeal and throughout any potential appeals process. Uber may seek to implement changes to demonstrate to a magistrate that it is fit and proper by the time of the appeal.

While Uber continues to operate, TfL will continue to closely scrutinize the private hire operator, which includes the need for Uber to meet the 20 conditions set by TfL in September 2019, and 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.

Helen Chapman, Director of Licensing, Regulation, and Charging at TfL, said, “As the regulator of private hire services in London we are required to make a decision today on whether Uber is fit and proper to hold a license.”

Chapman continued, “Safety is our absolute top priority. While we recognize 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 the future.”

Lastly, Chapman added, “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 scrutinize the company to ensure the management has robust controls in place to ensure safety is not compromised during any changes to the app.”

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