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Uber loses bid to renew London license due to safety concerns

London's transport regulator says a "pattern of failures" informed its decision.

Katie Collins Senior European Correspondent
Katie a UK-based news reporter and features writer. Officially, she is CNET's European correspondent, covering tech policy and Big Tech in the EU and UK. Unofficially, she serves as CNET's Taylor Swift correspondent. You can also find her writing about tech for good, ethics and human rights, the climate crisis, robots, travel and digital culture. She was once described a "living synth" by London's Evening Standard for having a microchip injected into her hand.
Katie Collins
3 min read

Major safety concerns mean London has not granted Uber a new license to operate.

Ben Fathers/AFP via Getty Images

London's transport regulator on Monday rejected Uber's bid to renew its license to operate in the British capital for another five years. Transport for London denied Uber's application over safety concerns, saying the company was not "fit and proper."

It is the second time in just over two years that TfL has declared the ride-hailing service unfit to hold a license to operate in London. TfL first rejected Uber's application for a new five-year license in September 2017. It granted the company a temporary 15-month license in June 2018 after a protracted public battle, which was renewed for a further two months in September this year.

Throughout this time Uber has continued to operate in the city while making a number of changes to its company culture, policies and tools and features. But according to TfL, these don't go far enough to protect the safety of passengers.

"TfL has identified a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk," said the regulator in a press release. "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."

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi on Monday tweeted his disappointment over the ruling, saying the company has come a long way in changing how it operates.

"We understand we're held to a high bar, as we should be," he wrote in the tweet. "But this TfL decision is just wrong."

From its roots as a small San Francisco-based startup, Uber has grown to be a global company operating in around 80 countries. But in many cities where it has set up shop, it's fallen foul of local taxi and private hire regulations. With 45,000 licensed drivers and 3.5 million passengers, London is a key market for Uber, but TfL has repeatedly stressed its concerns about Uber's ability to keep passengers safe.

The regulator said on Monday that a key factor in making its decision was a change to Uber's systems that allowed unauthorized drivers to upload their photos to the accounts of authorized drivers. It allowed these drivers to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver in at least 14,000 instances. All of these journeys were uninsured and in some cases the drivers didn't hold private hire licenses. In one case a driver had recently had their license revoked by TfL.

Transport for London also deemed the systems Uber had put in place to prevent suspended drivers from creating a new account and carrying passengers "comparatively easily manipulated."

Uber rejected TfL's claims, saying that it first informed the regulator of the issue with unauthorized drivers in May 2019 and that over the past two months it had audited every driver in London, introducing systems and checks to confirm the identity of drivers. It also soon plans to introduce a new "facial matching process."

"TfL's decision not to renew Uber's licence in London is extraordinary and wrong, and we will appeal," said Jamie Heywood, Uber's regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, in a statement. "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."

Uber will now have 21 days to lodge its appeal, and can continue to operate in London throughout the process. TfL said it will be scrutinizing the company carefully throughout its appeal, paying particularly close attention to safety.

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