Two of Sadiq Khan’s main challengers to become London Mayor next year have criticised him over Transport for London’s decision not to grant Uber a new private hire operator’s licence on the grounds that the company has failed to ensure the safety and security of passengers.
Both Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey and the Liberal Democrats’ Siobhan Benita have taken the Labour Mayor to task, with Bailey saying the decision represents “a hammer blow” to London’s reputation as “a world class city that is open for business” and Benita bemoaning “a blow to the huge numbers who rely on Uber and value the service it provides”.
TfL says that a change to Uber’s operating system enabled unauthorised drivers to pick up passengers affecting at least 14,000 trips in late 2018 and early 2019, and that another failure meant suspended or dismissed drivers could still create Uber accounts. The company has 21 days in which to lodge an appeal to a magistrate and its drivers will continue to operate will the appeal process takes place.
Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi described TfL’s decision as “just wrong”, but TfL said that although Uber “has made a number of positive changes and improvements to its culture, leadership and systems” since the company was granted a short-term licence in June 2018, followed by a two-month extension in September, it has “identified a pattern of failures by the company including several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk” and lacks confidence that these would not recur.
Response to the decision has been mixed, with Mayor Khan himself saying that while there is “undoubtedly a place for innovative companies in London” and recognising that TfL’s decision “may be unpopular with Uber users,” he backed TfL because “keeping Londoners safe is my absolute number one priority”.
Both Benita and Bailey have characterised the Uber licence situation as a failure to sort out the regulation of the ride-hailing firm, with Benita saying the Mayor has “had years to resolve concerns and issues with Uber” and Bailey claiming it “will lead to job losses for tens of thousands of Londoners from mostly BME communities”.
Jasmine Whitbread, chief executive of business group London First, said the news is “a blow for millions of Londoners and visitors who rely on Uber to get around the capital” and urged “both parties to get round the table to resolve the remaining issues quickly”. She welcomed TfL’s acknowledgement that Uber had gone some way to meeting its concerns and stressed that “On demand transport services are here to stay”.
There are around 45,000 Uber drivers in the capital. The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain, which seeks to represent workers in the “gig economy”, many of them low paid migrants, strongly attacked the the Mayor, TfL and Uber over the decision, saying that many drivers working under “precarious conditions” will face unemployment and crippling debt as they struggle to meet car lease payments”.
However, London Assembly Member David Kurten, who is also UKIP’s parliamentary candidate for Bognor Regis & Littlehampton, described it as the right decision” and said the appeal process “must not drag on for many months or years”.
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