No quick win for Uber in London over license loss

Disappointment for Uber today if it was hoping an apology and a personal visit from its new CEO would quickly reboot relations with the local transport regulator in London, which last month stripped the company of its license to operate.

The market is Uber’s most important in Europe, where it claims to have some 3.5 million users and around 40,000 drivers.

Today London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, said Transport for London (TfL) will defend its decision not to renew Uber’s license — with Uber’s appeal process likely to last months (although it can continue to operate in London during this process).

Khan confirmed that TfL would be sticking to its guns during his regular Mayor’s Question Time session. “The courts now will consider the appeal from Uber and of course TfL will defend the decision they made,” he said (via Reuters).

Late last month TfL announced it would not be renewing Uber’s license on account of its approach and conduct demonstrating “a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications”.

The four issues TfL flagged as feeding its decision were: Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offenses (the company has since said it’s working with London’s Met Police on a new system for reporting crimes); its approach to how driver medical certificates are obtained; its approach to carrying out background checks to ensure drivers do not have a criminal record; and how it has explained its use of internal software (codenamed Greyball) in London — software apparently designed to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app and prevent officials from undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

On Greyball Uber has previously stated it has not used the software in London for the purposes TfL cites — raising the obvious question of what it was using Greyball for. (We’ve asked and will update this story with any response.)

Yesterday Bloomberg reported that Uber is facing at least five criminal probes from the U.S. Justice Department — two more than previously reported. The additional DoJ probes are whether it violated price-transparency laws; and its role in the alleged theft of trade secrets outlining Alphabet’s autonomous-driving technology. (Uber has already been taken to court by Alphabet’s Waymo division over the alleged trade secrets theft. Waymo is seeking some $1.8BN in damages).

Safe to say, troubles from Uber’s legacy operations and its preference for cutting regulatory corners continue to pile up. A change of tone and a new-look CEO aren’t going to clear away all the muck overnight.

Indeed, the company was called out during a UK parliamentary committee session earlier this week, taking evidence on gig economy working practices, for the “aggressive nature” of its initial response to TfL’s decision. At the same session it also faced questions about its handling of reports of sexual assaults by drivers on its platform and on risks to road users from Uber drivers overworking.