Company calls Transport for London decision ‘extraordinary and wrong’ as TfL identifies ‘pattern of failures’ that put passenger safety at risk
Uber has lost its licence to operate in London for a second time after Transport for London (TfL) discovered more than 14,000 rides by unauthorised drivers in late 2018 and early 2019.
The transport agency said Uber was not “fit and proper” to operate in the capital and that it would not be renewing the company’s licence, which expires on Monday.
TfL said the cab-hailing firm had made “a number of positive changes” since the company was granted a licence by a magistrate in June 2018, after losing it due to safety concerns in 2017.
But it said an independent review had identified a “pattern of failures” including breaches that “placed passengers and their safety at risk”.
“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,” the agency said in a statement issued on Monday.
“Safety is TfL’s number one priority.”
In September TfL granted Uber an unexpectedly short licence of only two months while it sought further information on a range of issues, some of which had emerged late in the reapplication process.
The agency said a key issue was that when Uber made changes to its app and back-end systems it risked creating security and safety hazards for passengers.
For instance, one change to the company’s systems allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts.
This allowed them to pick up passengers in the place of the booked driver, something that occurred in at least 14,000 trips, meaning all the journeys were uninsured.
Some took place with unlicensed drivers, one of whom had previously had their licence revoked by TfL.
Another failure allowed dismissed or suspended drivers to create an Uber account and carry passengers.
TfL acknowledged that Uber had put systems in place to prevent such issues, but said it was concerned that “Uber’s systems seem to have been comparatively easily manipulated”.
Other serious breaches included insurance-related issues, which again highlighted Uber’s “weak systems and processes”, TfL said.
As a result the agency said it did not have confidence Uber had a “robust” system for protecting passenger safety while managing changes to its app and back-end systems.
The decision does not mean Uber will immediately cease operating in London, as it has 21 days to appeal.
It can continue as before during the appeals process, which gives it the opportunity to convince a magistrate that it is dealing with TfL’s concerns.
‘Safety is our absolute top priority,” said Helen Chapman, director of licensing, regulation and charging at TfL. “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.”
London mayor Sadiq Khan praised TfL’s decision, saying that Uber’s security issues had seen “passengers’ safety potentially put at risk getting into cars with unlicensed and suspended drivers”.
Uber called the decision “extraordinary and wrong” and said it would appeal.
“We have fundamentally changed our business over the last two years and are setting the standard on safety,” said Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager for Northern & Eastern Europe.
“TfL found us to be a fit and proper operator just two months ago, and we continue to go above and beyond.
“Over the last two months we have audited every driver in London and further strengthened our processes.”
About 45,000 drivers work for Uber in London and their livelihood would be at risk if the firm were ultimately denied a licence to operate in the city.
The IWGB union said it was seeking a meeting with Kahn to discuss a plan to protect the drivers.
Uber began trading on the New York Stock Exchange earlier in 2019 in the year’s biggest IPO to date.