- Uber has kept its licence to operate in London following a court ruling today
- It’s despite a magistrate criticising ‘historical failings’ by ride-hailing service
- TfL had rejected Uber’s application for a new London licence in November 2019
- This was due to ‘several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk’
- Systems allowed unauthorised people to upload photos to legitimate accounts
Uber was today granted a new 18-month licence to operate in London after a judge ruled the firm was ‘fit and proper’ to work in the capital despite ‘historical failings’.
Transport for London had denied the ride-hailing app a licence in November 2019, citing breaches which compromised passenger safety and issues with transparency.
But today, deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram ruled at Westminster Magistrates’ Court that Uber is now suitable to hold a licence after hearing three days of arguments.
The judge said he took Uber’s ‘track-record of regulation breaches’ into account but said the company had made efforts to address failings and had improved standards.
However, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association blasted the decision as a ‘disaster’ for London, claiming Uber’s ‘underlying culture remains as toxic as it has ever been’.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said TfL will ‘continue to closely monitor Uber and will not hesitate to take swift action should they fail to meet the strict standards required’.
In court today, Marie Demetriou QC, representing TfL, applied for conditions on a licence of 18 months, along with costs of nearly £375,000.
She said given the nature of the breaches and the short period of time since Uber’s improvements, the conditions would allow TfL to keep a ‘close eye’ on the app. These were not objected to by Uber.
Judge Ikram granted the licence for the 18-month period, telling the court: ‘In my judgment I made reference to continuing concerns and having recent observations, or observations on a recent assurance report.
‘I agree with the parties in this case. Improvements are new and I think there is great benefit in this case of the regulator TfL having the benefit of licence conditions.’
Uber will now pay £374,770 to TfL within 28 days.
Tim Ward QC, for Uber London Ltd, previously said improvements had been made, including in the company’s governance and document review systems.
He had also told the court TfL’s decision to not renew Uber’s licence was tipped by a critical report on their technical systems, which have since been assessed as suitable.
TfL first refused to renew the company’s licence in September 2017, but the firm was handed a 15-month licence by a judge in June 2018 after it took the case to court.
It was then given a further two-month licence in September 2019, after which TfL rejected Uber’s application for a new licence, citing ‘several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk’.
Judge Ikram was not asked to rule on whether TfL’s decision was correct, but whether Uber was suitable now for the licence.
Many of the arguments heard over three days in court focused on a vulnerability in Uber’s systems which allowed unauthorised people to upload their photographs to legitimate driver accounts, enabling them to pick up passengers.
This fraud involved 24 drivers exploiting a flaw with the app’s GPS to share their accounts with 20 others, leading to 14,788 unauthorised rides.
Marie Demetriou QC, representing TfL, said there had been a ‘catalogue of errors’ in Uber’s management of the issue, including how they had raised it with TfL.
This was accepted as inadequate by Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood.
He said: ‘It was not what we would do now. It was inadequate, we could have done better.’
The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) accused Uber of a ‘cover-up’ over the scale of the problem, which was ’emphatically’ denied.
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