Uber has been stripped of its London licence for a second time by the UK capital’s transport agency, after it again found that the ride-hailing service was not a “fit and proper” company to operate there.
Transport for London said on Monday that it had discovered more than 14,000 Uber rides by unauthorised drivers in late 2018 and early 2019, “putting passenger safety and security at risk”. After an independent review of Uber’s systems, TfL said that it could not have confidence that Uber could prevent a repeat of the problem.
“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,” said Helen Chapman, director of licensing, regulation and charging at TfL.
The agency added that it was a “concern that Uber’s systems seem to have been comparatively easily manipulated”.
Uber, which has 3.5m riders and 45,000 licensed drivers in London, did not deny TfL’s accusations but called the decision “extraordinary and wrong”. It said it planned to appeal and would “continue to operate as normal” in the meantime.
Under London’s private-hire licensing laws, Uber has 21 days to lodge an appeal with a magistrate and can continue to operate throughout the process.
The San Francisco-based company insisted that it has “robust systems and checks in place to confirm the identity of drivers” and planned to introduce a new “facial matching process” soon.
The damning verdict on Uber’s safety record in one of its top cities will come as a blow to chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who upon his appointment two years ago promised to “do the right thing — period”. Uber’s shares were down by more than 5 per cent in pre-market trading in New York.
A series of scandals in 2017 led to TfL denying Uber’s London licence, a ruling that was later overturned in court. Two months ago, Uber was granted an unexpectedly short operating permit that will expire just before midnight on Monday. TfL only discovered the extent of the unauthorised rides late in the renewal process, it said on Monday, alongside other insurance-related issues.
“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,” the agency said in a statement on Monday.
“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,” TfL added, including working in a “transparent and productive manner” with the regulator. “However, TfL has identified a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk.”
Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern & eastern Europe, said: “We have fundamentally changed our business over the past 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.”