Uber Loses License in London, Deemed Unsafe by Regulator
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.
14,000 journeys have involved fraudulent drivers, yet there are still people blaming the regulator for taking action, rather than the company failing to take safety as seriously as they should. This is not acceptable. https://t.co/PAJ7vftqZ0
— Wes Streeting (@wesstreeting) November 25, 2019
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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.
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.