On September 22, London’s transport authority rejected Uber’s application for a new license to operate.
Transport for London (TfL) decided not to renew Uber’s operating license on the basis that the company is not a “fit and proper” private car hire operator. It cited four areas of concern, including its approach to carrying out background checks on drivers and reporting criminal offenses.
TfL also took into account the revelation that Uber used “Greyball” software to prevent regulators and law enforcement officials from monitoring Uber—although the company said it never used, or considered using, the software in London.
Professor Andre Spicer of Cass Business School in London told The Guardian that the decision was a “potentially mortal blow” to Uber. “In the past Uber operated at the edge of the law with new technology as an alibi,” Spicer said. “Now its rogue business model is proving to be a big liability.”
The company has also faced criticism from unions, politicians, and traditional taxi drivers. Unions have urged TfL to insist that Uber guarantee basic employment rights under the terms of its new license.
“This is a gamechanger for the gig economy,” said Labour MP Frank Field. “Uber must now respond to TfL’s decision by totally resetting its business model.”
Uber has 21 days to appeal the decision. They’ve already turned to the app’s users to advocate for it. A change.org petition to keep Uber in London has more than 790,000 signatures as of September 26.
“It’s a significant decision—not just because London is a big taxi market but also because it might set a precedent for other cities that are of two minds about Uber,” Kartik Hosanagar of the Warton School of the University of Pennsylvania told CNN Tech.
For its part, Uber said it would challenge TfL’s decision in court. This challenge could take a year or more. It will probably point out some of the things it’s done over the past two years to increase safety and security, like the ability for a rider to share their ride details with a friend in real time.
But, Hosanagar said, the company will very likely have to defend how it screens and manages its drivers.
In response to TfL’s decision, new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, who came aboard after former CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation, published a letter in London’s Evening Standard apologizing for the company’s mistakes.
“While Uber has revolutionized the way people move in cities around the world, it’s equally true that we’ve got things wrong along the way. On behaif of everyone at Uber globally, I apologize for the mistakes we’ve made,” the letter states. “We won’t be perfect, but we will listen to you; we will look to be long-term partners with the cities we serve; and we will run our business with humility, integrity, and passion.”
The letter also outlined things Uber is already doing to contribute more to London, including adding wheelchair-accessible vehicle and working on a clean air plan that will help the company tackle pollution.
Photo: A 2016 protest by United Cabbies Group focused on Uber’s working conditions and other problems with the company. Credit: Dinendra Haria / Shutterstock.com