Uber gets two-month operating license in London. It wanted five years

The city decides to keep Uber on probation.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
3 min read

Uber has been fighting to stay in London over the past two years.

Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Uber's battle with London appears to be far from over. The ride-hailing company's probationary 15-month license was set to expire Wednesday, and Uber was likely hoping to get the typical five-year extension. Instead, the city gave it two months.

The regulator Transport for London said it's still looking for "additional information" before deciding what kind of license to give the company. It didn't specify what type of information it wants from Uber.

"Uber London Limited has been granted a two-month private hire operator licence to allow for scrutiny of additional information that we are requesting ahead of consideration of any potential further licensing application," a Transport for London spokesperson said in a statement.

Once a small San Francisco-based startup, Uber is now a behemoth public company with operations in about 80 countries. But it's still battling regulators around the world. Its business is blamed for upending taxi companies, adding to traffic congestion and altering the labor force by bringing millions of independent workers driving their own cars onto public roads.

Besides London, other major cities have also cracked down on Uber over the last year. New York City, for instance, mandated congestion rules in its busy business district, along with a minimum wage for drivers. Meanwhile, California just passed a law that could reclassify drivers, making them employees instead of independent contractors.

Watch this: Uber, Lyft drivers in CA closer to employment, AppleCare now offered as a subscription

Uber's woes in London began in September 2017 when Transport for London refused to renew its operating license. The regulator said that Uber was "not fit and proper" to hold a license because its conduct showed a "lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications."

After a drawn-out public battle with the city, a judge finally granted Uber a 15-month license in June 2018. Under the terms of that permit, Uber was expected to add three new independent members to its UK board of directors, turn in "assurance" reports every six months and work with the police on criminal allegations made against drivers.

The two-month license comes with those same conditions. Transport for London said it also added a few new requirements tied to passenger safety. Once Uber's two-month permit is up, the company will have to reapply for another license.

Standard permits for ride-hailing services in London have a five-year limit, and then companies have to renew. Other new entrants to the city, including Kapten, Bolt and Ola, initially received just a 15-month license. 

Uber said it's worked with Transport for London over the past year to uphold its requirements.

"TfL's recognition of our improved culture and governance reflects the progress we have made in London," said Jamie Heywood, Uber's regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe. "We will continue to work closely with TfL and provide any additional requested information."

Heywood said that over the past two years, Uber has added several new passenger safety features to its app and introduced new worker protections for drivers. It also pledged that all London rides will be in electric cars by 2025 for its Clean Air Plan.

"We will keep listening, learning and improving to provide the best service while being a trusted partner to London," Heywood said.

Some London Uber drivers believe the ride-hailing company still needs to do more. The Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain said Transport for London and London Mayor Sadiq Khan should use this two-month period to create better worker protections.

"Once again, TfL's failure to regulate effectively and Uber's unwillingness to play by the rules has led to the jobs of 40,000 Uber drivers being thrown into uncertainty," said James Farrar, the chair of the United Private Hire Drivers branch of the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain. "Sadiq Khan must use this two-month license review period to insist Uber respect UK employment law as a condition of license."

Originally published Sept. 24. 
Update, Sept. 25: Adds additional information on Transport for London's permitting process.