Uber back in the news

5 December 2019

Whilst this is a topic we have commented on before, Uber London Limited (Uber) is back in the news. 

The decision

On the 25th of November, Transport for London (TfL) confirmed that it will not grant Uber a new private hire operator's licence in response to its latest application.

In a press release, Helen Chapman, Director of Licensing, Regulation and Charging for TfL stated as follows:

“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”.

In short, TfL’s decision is stated to be based on a pattern of failures by Uber which TfL has concluded placed passenger safety and security at risk. As the regulator of taxi and private hire services in London, TfL’s role is critically important to protect the public.

Whilst TfL noted that Uber had made a number of positive changes and improvements to its culture, TfL does not “have confidence that similar issues will not reoccur in the future”.

Key points

A key issue which has been identified is a change to Uber's systems which allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photographs to other Uber driver accounts. On a practical level, this allowed the drivers to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver. This is estimated to have occurred in at least 14,000 trips.

You may wonder why the aforementioned is of concern; and the answer is that this meant the journeys were uninsured and some took place with unlicensed drivers, one of which had previously had their licence revoked by TfL.

Whilst TfL has openly acknowledged the steps that Uber has put in place to prevent this type of activity, there remains concern as to the manipulation of these systems.

What’s next?

Uber now has 21 days to appeal, and has already publicly announced that it will do so. During the appeal period it can continue to operate, and it will undoubtedly be seeking to implement changes to demonstrate that it is fit and proper by the time the appeal is heard.

Sadiq Khan, Mayor for London, tweeted a statement on TfL’s decision that both recognises the need for innovative companies in London, and reinforces the need for those companies to abide by rules and regulations to ensure public safety.

Why is regulation important?

The simple answer is because it underpins public safety. Service users need reassurance that providers are held accountable by the setting and monitoring, by regulators, of standards.

It is of course imperative that regulators perform their functions in a pragmatic and proportionate manner, and as such, Uber will be best placed to work in conjunction with TfL to achieve its ultimate aim of regaining its licence. What is critically important though, is that the changes which Uber makes are sustained such that it can demonstrate to TfL and the public that the learning has been intrinsically embedded within its business. The circumstances in which Uber must prove itself are challenging. Uber’s London licence has now been in question since at least late 2017, partly over safety concerns, and yet so far it has apparently failed to bring itself up to the mark.

About the authors

Shannett Thompson is a Senior Associate in the Regulatory team. She has substantial experience in advising individuals in relation to their regulatory obligations in the wider context. She is adept at advising and assisting individuals in respect of registration/licensing applications.

Nick Wrightson is a Senior Associate in our Public Law team. Nick has an administrative and public law practice focused on judicial review litigation and supporting clients through public inquiriesNick’s experience includes representing public bodies, private companies, individuals, representative bodies and charities – often in high stakes, politically and commercially sensitive cases.


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