London transport chiefs have denied Uber’s right to operate in the capital after finding “several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk” – including 14,000 trips made by fraudulent drivers.
The company now has 21 days to appeal the decision, which it called “extraordinary and wrong.” It can continue to operate in London during the appeal process.
One of Transport for London’s chief concerns was a change to Uber’s systems allowing unauthorized drivers to upload their photos to other drivers’ accounts, which let them pick up passengers under the wrong names.
A spokesperson for the transport authority said this meant all the journeys were uninsured.
Some of the drivers who abused the loophole were unlicensed, according to the transport authority. One had already had their real license revoked by TfL.
Another loophole let drivers who had been dismissed or suspended create accounts and continue taking passengers.
“Other serious breaches have also occurred,” TfL said, “including several insurance-related issues. Some of these led TfL to prosecute Uber earlier this year for causing and permitting the use of vehicles without the correct hire or reward insurance in place.
“While Uber has worked to address these issues, they highlight the potential safety risk to passengers of weak systems and processes.”
TfL’s director of licensing, regulation and charging Helen Chapman said: “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.
“It is clearly concerning that these issues arose, but it is also concerning that we cannot be confident that similar issues won’t happen again in future.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said in a tweet that he supported TfL’s decision, and that “keeping Londoners safe is my absolute number-one priority.”
There are 45,000 Uber drivers in London. Its future in the capital has been uncertain since TfL refused to renew its licence in September 2017 over safety and security concerns.
In June 2018, Uber was granted a 15-month licence by a judge after it appealed against TfL’s decision.
Concerns listed by the transport body had included the company’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences, how drivers’ medical certificates were obtained, how criminal record checks were carried out, and its use of technology that allegedly helped it evade law enforcement officials.
Meanwhile, Uber is still awaiting its day in the UK’s Supreme Court after unsuccessfully challenging an employment tribunal finding that its drivers were not self-employed.
Instead, it was found, they should be accorded the same rights as employees – such as sick pay, minimum wage and holiday entitlement.
Union GMB, which led that action on behalf of Uber drivers in 2016, hailed Monday’s decision by TfL, and urged the Supreme Court – Britain’s highest appeal court – to uphold last year’s decision by the Court of Appeal on workers’ rights.
“GMB wants to protect honest drivers, but it’s perhaps time for them to look elsewhere to work,” said GMB regional officer Steve Garelick.
Uber’s regional general manager for northern and eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood, said: “TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence in London is extraordinary and wrong, and we will appeal.
“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.
“On behalf of the 3.5m riders and 45,000 licensed drivers who depend on Uber in London, we will continue to operate as normal and will do everything we can to work with TfL to resolve this situation.”
Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi wrote in a tweet that the TfL decision is “just wrong.”
The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain has called the ruling a “hammer blow” to drivers.
“Many will now face the distress of facing not only unemployment but also crippling debt as they struggle to meet car lease payments,” said James Farrar, who chairs the union’s united private hire drivers branch.
“The terrible price of Transport for London’s inability to run a stable regulatory regime and Uber’s refusal to play by the rules will be paid for by the most vulnerable workforce in London,” he added.
“We are asking for an urgent meeting with the mayor to discuss what mitigation plan can now be put in place to protect Uber drivers.”