Uber fights to stay in London

WikiTribune is tracking this story on the legal situation of ride-sharing app Uber in London, UK, one of the global company’s major markets. To collaborate with us, please go to EDIT or TALK on the top right of this page to make a change directly or to propose a change. 


Transport for London (TfL) announced on February 15 that it will introduce more regulations on private hire and ride-sharing services. Uber and similar companies will be made to limit the working time of their drivers and to hand over travel data to the government.

TfL’s new policy statement also urged Uber and other ride-sharing apps to offer women-only cars to improve customer safety. This means a service like Uber Pool, which lets customers share a car with strangers, could be affected.

Operators should “allow passengers to choose who they share vehicles with (e.g. women-only vehicles),” said the statement.

Uber is currently appealing TfL’s decision to remove its operating license in London last year.

Beginning of the battle

TfL decided not to renew Uber’s license on September 22, 2017, due to what it said was a “lack of corporate responsibility” in efforts such as reporting criminal offences and carrying out background checks on drivers.

Then, on November 10, 2017, Uber lost an appeal against that employment tribunal ruling that its drivers should be classed as workers rather than self-employed.

In 2016, two drivers, James Farrar and Yaseen Aslam, won the tribunal case which stated their rights as employees entitled them to the minimum wage and sick pay.

Uber told the tribunal that 80 percent of its drivers class themselves as self-employed.

The tribunal found that as Uber tells its drivers that when they are “on duty” they should be prepared to accept 80 percent of ride requests this time should be taken account of in their employment status.

Uber has not yet stated whether it will seek to take the appeal to a higher court.

Issues related to employee rights were not directly included in TfL’s decision in September not to renew Uber’s operating license, so the tribunal ruling will not affect the company’s ongoing appeal against that decision.

Corporate governance dispute

On September 22, 2017, TfL said that it would not re-issue Uber with a private hire operator license due to the tech company’s “lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”

TfL took issue with Uber’s approach to reporting criminal offences and obtaining medical certificates, how it carries out background checks, and the use of its “Greyball” software. TfL claims the software gives regulators a misleading impression regarding the number and location of Uber cars.

Uber denies these accusations and claims that it uses Greyball to protect its drivers from dangerous riders.

On September 25, Khosrowshahi released a letter apologizing for Uber’s “mistakes” and expressed his commitment to finding a solution alongside London officials.

dara khosrowshahi on Twitter

You have my commitment that @Uber will work with #London to make things right and keep this great global city moving safely.

Uber was dealt another blow on October 2 when its UK boss, Jo Bertram, quit after four years with the firm. Bertram said her decision was not connected to recent events but to new job opportunities.

“I’ve decided to move on to something new and exciting,” she wrote in an email to staff.

Bertram oversaw Uber’s major expansion in London and was responsible for streamlining the licensing process and securing new permissions.

Khosrowshahi now has to look for a new UK boss while simultaneously fighting to retain Uber’s license in London.

The new CEO – who took over from Uber founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick in August – also has the difficult task of reforming a company facing several lawsuits and charges of sexism.

Transport for London (TfL) Commissioner Mike Brown and Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi met on October 3 to discuss the future of the ride-hailing tech company in London.

The response

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she thought that banning Uber was “disproportionate” and that it endangers the jobs of 40,000 Uber drivers.

Shopkeeper Marley Dominguez, a self-described frequent Uber user, said that while Uber should do more to comply with drivers’ background checks, he also thought the ban was disproportionate.

“I think the microscope is on [Uber] a lot more. They kinda reinvented the wheel so there’s a lot of questions about what they do,” Dominguez, 37, told WikiTribune. “Any company of that size is inevitably going to have issues but it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a bad company.”

The company’s $69 billion valuation far outpaces its U.S. competitor Lyft and Chinese rival Didi Chuxing. Many have contested its valuation. Regardless, some 3.5 million people in London use Uber. The British capital is also the company’s largest European market.

But a YouGov poll found that Londoners largely supported TfL’s decision to revoke Uber’s license despite the 800,000 people who signed a petition urging TfL to reconsider the ban.

London is not alone. Uber has clashed with regulators in cities around the world. It pulled out of Austin, Texas, in 2016 after the city rejected its proposal to self-regulate its drivers. In April 2017, Uber pulled out of the Danish market after fare meters and seat occupancy sensors became obligatory for all taxi-service vehicles.

Recently, Uber said that it will suspend its operations in Quebec, Canada if the provincial government passes new legislation requiring Uber drivers to undergo criminal checks.

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