By on November 25, 2019

Transportation for London (TfL) announced it has informed Uber that it will not be reissued a license to operate in the UK capitol, citing concerns over customer safety. TfL had previously declined to renew the ride-hailing business’ private hire operator license, which expired on September 30th, saying it was unsatisfied with the number of drivers it found “fit and proper to hold a licence.” Then it changed its mind, offering a two-month extension.

Now it’s claiming that at least 14,000 Uber trips taken within the city included drivers linked, via their app profiles, to cars they were not legally registered to drive. Having done an impromptu survey of his own (done as unscientifically as possible by just asking drivers if they owned the vehicle), your author found the number of “rogue” Uber drivers in New York City to be about one in five.

While easily framed as a gotcha moment, that ratio isn’t really any different from what I’ve experienced with NYC’s sanctioned yellow (or green) cabs. But that doesn’t exactly make it a non-issue either — just more of the same. 

From Transportation for London:

A key issue identified was that a change to Uber’s systems allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts.

This allowed them to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver, which occurred in at least 14,000 trips — putting passenger safety and security at risk.

This means all the journeys were uninsured and some passenger journeys took place with unlicensed drivers, one of which had previously had their licence revoked by TfL.

Uber wants to appeal the decision, saying it has made sweeping changes in recent years with safety at the forefront. Despite the TfL recognizing those changes and offering a brief extension of its revoked London license (or licence, if you prefer) from September, it said the agency “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.”

Metro UK quoted Helen Chapman, director of licensing, regulation and charging at TfL, as saying, “If they choose to appeal, Uber will have the opportunity to publicly demonstrate to a magistrate whether it has put in place sufficient measures to ensure potential safety risks to passengers are eliminated … If they do appeal, Uber can continue to operate and we will closely scrutinise the company to ensure the management has robust controls in place to ensure safety is not compromised during any changes to the app.”

London Mayor Sadiq Khan supported TfL’s decision, adding that public safety has been his primary concern for the city. He later released an official statement, followed by condemnation of any persons blaming the regulator for taking action.

This is just one of many thorns placed into the side of Uber. Here in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board is hoping to encourage regulators to take a firmer stance on self-driving laws (after investigating Uber’s fatal accident from 2018) and California has been cracking down on the gig economy the company relies on to exist. Considering Uber is still highly unprofitable, these mounting headaches aren’t doing it any favors. Meanwhile, it’s been withdrawing from several sizable markets (mostly in Asia) after losing ground to local startups.

[Image: MikeDotta/Shutterstock]

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24 Comments on “Uber Loses License in London, Deemed Unsafe by Regulator...”


  • avatar
    indi500fan

    I assume the proper amount of graft & corruption will have to flow to government to get this fixed. Surely local govts in the US will learn how to tap into this funding source…

  • avatar
    R Henry

    Uber entered the Taxi industry with the stated intent to disrupt existing systems. This attitude, reflected by its founder in innumerable ways, resulted in cavalier approaches to regulatory issues. It is now reaping its just rewards.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    I’m fully convinced that Uber and Lyft are doomed and their market caps reflect it.

    Both bet big on self-driving vehicles to improve their economics. No drivers to pay, more profit. Near perfect machine learning AI making fewer mistakes? Lower liability costs. Offering a consistent experience that the passenger largely controls? Better quality – profit.

    Self-driving cars are at least 10 years away, more than likely 20 plus years away. The hubris of how easy it would be has faded away into reality.

    Both Uber and Lyft will run out of capital before they cross the bridge.

    So what are they doing? Squeezing their drivers more with lower bonus pay, not doing higher payouts for surge pricing, and adding even cheaper options that hurt driver pay. At the same time they are charging customers more (my most recent Lyft ride was on par with area taxi fare, no surge pricing).

    Rideshare companies have regulators on their left, big holes in their business plans on the right, and investors that are demanding continued quarterly growth from above.

    They are screwed.

    • 0 avatar
      R Henry

      @APaGttH

      I have very mixed feelings about “ride sharing.”

      My elderly father can no longer drive safely. Ride sharing has allowed him to maintain a VERY active life despite his inability to drive. Since he can’t use a smartphone, he uses gogograndparentcom (I recommend heartily!) to make the arrangements via traditional voice telephone interface. No public transportation options would match the flexibility of ride sharing, and traditional taxi service is double/triple, or more, the cost…which would be prohibitive.

      That said, Uber in particular has run roughshod over every obstacle, as it sought market dominance….often with disastrous results.

      I remain loyal to traditional cabs when I travel on biz in big cities….

      • 0 avatar
        SPPPP

        “No public transportation options would match the flexibility of ride sharing, and traditional taxi service is double/triple, or more, the cost…which would be prohibitive.”

        The problem is that traditional taxi service is priced closer to a realistic cost. Uber’s service is subsidized by drivers making around minimum wage after they pay for their expenses and depreciation, plus venture capital (largely Saudi petrodollars). These two factors make up the difference between what your father is willing to pay and what solvent taxi companies are willing to accept. Take away these factors, and Uber is basically a taxi company with an app.

        • 0 avatar
          R Henry

          “The problem is that traditional taxi service is priced closer to a realistic cost.”

          Thanks for the thoughtful response. Yes, agreed. In my own selfish way, I hope the Saudi petrodollars hold out long enough for my father to continue his active lifestyle as long as he can…..

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      If they have a future, it is to charge higher prices, shrink accordingly, and stop spending billions on R&D. In other words, to become easier-to-use, but likely less safe, taxi services, priced the same as any other taxi services. But that doesn’t seem like a Cool Tech Model, so the investors will take a bath.

    • 0 avatar
      Imagefont

      I think UBER and LYFTs bet on autonomously cars was all about pumping their stocks. They needed a good story and it sounds good to talk about dramatically lower costs with driverless cars to allow them to achieve profitability. Not that any rational, thinking person believed this would happen in the foreseeable future.
      We can’t even have paperless offices.
      Personally I think driverless cars would cost MORE to operate on a per mile basis, all things considered.
      Where’s my jet pack?

      • 0 avatar
        Detroit-X

        THIS.
        Many startups aren’t about a building new business. They are about sucking money out of venture capital and the stock market for the top 20% of the company. They don’t expect it to last very long, and they receive excessive salaries. Nice work if you can get it.

      • 0 avatar
        R Henry

        @Imagefont

        “They needed a good story”

        It has been impossible to ignore how contemporary consumers want a story with EVERYTHING they purchase. Hamburgers must today be made using “Organic, ethically sourced ingredients.”

        Cars too are required to have a story–be it their nation of origin, the “sustainability” of its propulsion, or the politics of the producing firm.

        Just a generation ago, the objective was: Which burger has the best flavor,or which car looked and performed best…with little mention of its political or socio-economic pedigree.

  • avatar
    tankinbeans

    Does Lyft operate in the UK and do they have similar issues?

    My mom currently does the Lyft/Uber thing part time to supplement her income. She has to have two separate license to pick up at the MSP airport and have her car inspected annually. Truth be told I’m always worried about her driving since she’s a woman of an age, but she shuts herself down before it gets dark and avoids the bar rush.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    Uber is just another one of these modern companies out to syphon off money from local cities and send the profit to one central place. The relentless drive to make the 0.1% the 0.05%. Walmart did the same sort of thing on a lower rung of the ladder by opening up box stores outside towns and ruining the local main street businesses by offering two cents off, which the Pavlovian greed of “shoppers” decided was a wonderful thing. Amazon has now managed to do the same thing to the lesser online and “old-fashioned” companies out there. People apparently love slowly eliminating the physical community they live in without a thought.

    There are no “capitols” outside of the USA. The capital of the UK of London. The capital of the USA is Washington DC.

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/capitol

    And it even explains the difference between capital and capitol for those too undiscerning to have noticed it in their journey through life.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      “Walmart did the same sort of thing on a lower rung of the ladder by opening up box stores outside towns and ruining the local main street businesses by offering two cents off, which the Pavlovian greed of “shoppers” decided was a wonderful thing.”

      Did you learn this in sociology class? Do you really think that Wal-mart made their bones with incremental pricing advantages?

  • avatar

    As usually the Government came there to help you. You have to be grateful. Just do what they tell you and you will be safe. Or else.

  • avatar
    volvo

    I must say I am a big Uber/Lyft fan. Reasonable price, clean vehicle and prompt service. I do not understand all the rideshare hate.

    As far as I know deciding to be a rideshare driver is entirely voluntary. No armed men come to your door if you do not become a rideshare driver.

    My personal experience is that rideshare is a big step up from licensed taxis. Sorry to see that options are disappearing from some major urban centers. No cars, no rideshare. Only public transit in which I include government approved 3-4 seat buses (taxis).

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Uber vehicles tended to be clean at the beginning. The last couple years, I haven’t found most of them to be any different from taxis. Drivers are being squeezed, so they are keeping vehicles longer and spending less time and money on cleaning.

      I wouldn’t hate on the companies if they wouldn’t dump their services below cost. Pricing that reflected their costs would be probably 2x what they are now, maybe a bit less in the biggest cities and quite a bit more in outlying areas where the drivers are spending most of their time deadheading.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Uber vehicles tended to be clean at the beginning. The last couple years, I haven’t found most of them to be any different from taxis. Drivers are being squeezed, so they are keeping vehicles longer and spending less time and money on cleaning.

      I wouldn’t hate on the companies if they wouldn’t dump their services below cost. Pricing that reflected their costs would be probably 2x what they are now, maybe a bit less in the biggest cities and quite a bit more in outlying areas where the drivers are spending most of their time deadheading.

  • avatar
    Steve65

    Couldn’t happen to a more deserving pack of sociopaths. My only regret is that only the suckers will get cleaned out when the inevitable collapse come, and the original scammers will walk away with billions. Unless they’ve fallen for their own scam, and hang on past the tipping point and into the stock price freefall.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    Londonstan as usual

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    We used Uber (and the Tube) quite a bit when in London earlier this year. I noticed that every Uber driver we had there was obviously not a native Briton, and likely a fresh immigrant from somewhere far away (Russia, the Middle East or Africa). I did get one driver from Poland, but the rest either sounded like or outright stated that they weren’t from the EU. I wonder why that was.

    Taken at face value, I do agree with TfL. If they’ve been able to determine that significant numbers of drivers are using fraudulent information to register—and that Uber didn’t take due diligence in preventing that—then that is a big problem. As was stated in the article, it looks like Uber gets the chance to appeal and remain in operation under much closer scrutiny.

    • 0 avatar
      ToddAtlasF1

      Drivers being fresh visa-holders is the norm for taxis in US cities too. For one thing, they have clean driving records since they just arrived from places that never developed written languages. I haven’t been to London during the EU era, but their taxi drivers were far more like butlers than day laborers back in the day. They had to pass ‘the knowledge,’ which involved months of study and riding a bike around London learning the best routes to get everywhere at any given time. Their black cabs had to be clean and damage free. I assume costs were high to maintain such standards, and I can see why any taxi operators would want their livelihoods protected. I also think that people who hire cars can decide for themselves whether or not they want to support drivers who think they’re a class apart utilizing specialized taxicabs. Less government is better government. Uber had a good idea that they spoiled by being typical progressives. Oh well.

  • avatar
    stuki

    As long as Uber’s “investors” are subsidizing the show, including no doubt the payola required to get through these kinds of shakedown, they will remain tough to compete with. But beyond that, there is no longer a need, nor justification, for drivers and hailers to cut some middleman in to the tune of 25% or more, for arranging a fare.

    A decentralized service matching fares and drivers, wouldn’t leave anyone for municipalities to shake down, and would simultaneously leave room for both lower fares and higher driver pay. That’s a sustainable model. Which is something the childish current obsession with pretending “investors” are some form of meaningfully useful part of a functional economy, is not.

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