Yesterday, Uber began its legal bid to regain its London licence at Westminster’s Magistrates Court. In this most high-profile test of the ride-hailing app Uber will defend its right to operate in London and attempt to shed its reputation for its problematic culture and conduct under founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick.
Regulator Transport for London (TfL) stunned Uber-users last September when it banned the app after finding the company was “not fit and proper to hold a licence” to operate in the British capital. The company appealed against the decision and has continued operations in the meantime. The hearing is expected to take three days.
London is Uber’s biggest European market, with more than 3.6m users and around 45,000 drivers. The app has struck a more conciliatory stance towards regulators since Dara Khosrowshahi replaced Travis Kalanick as CEO at the end of last summer, and London quickly became one of the front lines of the new CEO’s international charm offensive, with the company unveiling a series of changes to placate TfL.
Within weeks of his appointment, Dara Khosrowshahi flew to the UK to meet TfL’s commissioner, Mike Brown. After initially saying he was “disappointed” by London’s decision, Mr Khosrowshahi has since apologised to Londoners for past mistakes. In a bid to address safety concerns, Uber now reports violent incidents involving its drivers to the police, and has made a multimillion-pound investment in call centre staff – unique for London – to handle questions. It also allows users to see drivers’ licence numbers when they book trips. It also now provides public access to its data on traffic and travel conditions and has capped the number of hours UK drivers can work before they take a break.
In a series of accusations published alongside the ban last September, TfL said that Uber had misled authorities in written correspondence and failed to answer questions accurately about its model for accepting trips.
TfL also raised concerns about the app’s approach to safety and its use of software called “Greyball” to avoid scrutiny by providing authorities with a different version of the app: “Uber provided a false picture of the order in which various steps take place, when a booking is being accepted,” TfL said at the time, adding: “Uber has demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of other issues which have potential public safety implications.”
Uber has denied deliberately misleading regulators or posing a safety threat. It has also said it had not used Greyball in London – but didn’t deny its existence. The company is expected to agree to an additional set of conditions about its governance and approach to regulation if it is granted another license following this week’s hearing. Some voices in TfL and British politics said Uber’s new licence ‘should be a short one.’
Uber of course, is no stranger to legal disputes, writes the Financial Times. The app is facing tougher government oversight across the EU following last year’s decision from the European Court of Justice that it should be regulated like a traditional taxi company instead of a technology group. Last November, the app was also dragged through a court battle in San Francisco with Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Alphabet, after it was accused of attempting to steal trade secrets. Khosrowshahi drew a line under the lawsuit with a $245m settlement. And the company lost a key employment tribunal ruling in London last November, after it was told it must treat drivers as “workers” entitled to the minimum wage and holiday pay. It is also appealing against that decision, with the next hearing scheduled for October.
- Uber highlights its positive sides in London appeal.