Uber: Will it get its London licence back?

Taxi booking firm Uber will soon hear whether its licence to operate in London will be renewed, and if so, by how long.

As things stand, its private hire licence will expire on Wednesday.

Transport for London (TfL) will decide whether to award another licence, which can be for up to five years.

The company lost its licence in 2017 over public safety concerns, after which a judge granted a 15-month extension which is due to end.

What are we expecting to hear and when?

TfL will probably announce its decision before Wednesday’s deadline. There are three possible options:

  • It could grant Uber a five-year licence
  • It could offer a shorter agreement with conditions attached
  • It could decline the company the right to operate.

If TfL does decide against allowing the company to operate, Uber has 21 days to appeal against TfL’s decision and can continue to operate while any appeals are continuing.

A five-year agreement is unlikely, says Richard Kramer, an analyst at Arete Research.

“TfL likely wants to preserve leverage over companies to review their compliance on the many problems at Uber,” he said. Recent licences have also been shorter than the five-year maximum, he said.

In July, Indian ride-hailing company Ola got a 15-month agreement for its entry into the London market, while ViaVan got a three-year licence renewal.

Why did Uber lose its licence in the first place?

In September 2017, TfL said it declined to renew the licence on the grounds of “public safety and security implications”.

TfL’s concerns included Uber’s approach to carrying out background checks on drivers and reporting serious criminal offences.

Uber’s use of secret software, called “Greyball”, which could be used to block regulators from gaining full access to the app, was another factor, according to TfL.

At the time, Uber rejected TfL’s claims that it endangered public safety and said Greyball had never been used in the UK for the purposes cited by TfL.

What has Uber done to try to get its licence back?

The company says it has made “wholesale” changes to the business since the licence loss.

It now reports crimes directly to the police instead of logging criminal complaints with TfL, which caused delays.

Among other changes, drivers can now only use the app in the region in which they hold a private hire licence, while their working hours are more tightly regulated.

A licensed driver on the app has to now take an uninterrupted six-hour break after 10 hours of taking passengers or travelling to pick them up.

The firm also made changes to its app in London to “make it clearer” to passengers that its drivers are licensed by TfL and that it accepts ride requests before allocating drivers.

It has also hired a new chairman of the UK business, former Bank of England advisor Laurel Powers-Freeling, described as “impressive” by Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot in her ruling approving Uber’s extension.

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