As the decision day for driver and rider matching service Uber’s London licence renewal draws ever closer, and the Evening Standard muses that the lawyers will get involved whichever way that decision goes, another highly embarrassing slice of double standards at Transport for London has come to light. And, yes, it involves Uber.
Recently, another app-based private hire provider called Taxify appeared on London’s streets. The company also offers ride-sharing and, as Bloomberg has reported, “has financial backing from Chinese ride-sharing firm Didi Chuxing and operates in 26 cities in Europe, the Middle East, South Africa and Mexico”. But TfL was not happy.
TfL “took issue with the Tallinn-based company’s manner of entering the London market through the takeover of a locally based licensed private-hire provider, City Drive Services”. Why so? “The law requires private-hire bookings to be taken by licensed private-hire operators at a licensed premises, with appropriate record keeping”.
The banning of Taxify is because CDS has the licence and Taxify, which is apparently accepting the bookings, does not. But for all those believing TfL is behaving without fear or favour, a problem enters. By the own admission of one of its senior staff, Uber is doing the same thing that has got Taxify banned. I will explain.
Uber’s licence to operate in London is held by Uber London Ltd. So all Uber bookings in London must be accepted by Uber London Ltd. So when the punter uses the app, they must be dealing with, and shown to be dealing with, Uber London Ltd.
However, and here we encounter a significantly sized however, we now know that not only is this unlikely to be the case - but also that TfL know it too. Yet Uber is still operating.
An email from Helen Chapman at TfL to Jo Bartram of Uber dated June 2015, released under an FoI request, reads thus: “It has recently been brought to our attention that you have updated Uber’s privacy statement for customers using the Uber B. V. App. In the light of recent events reported in the media we would have expected you to have considered sharing the amendments with us first … Please could you set out in writing the exact changes that have been made to this privacy statement by return email for our consideration” [my emphasis]. Not the Uber London Ltd app.
Uber BV is registered in the Netherlands and has payments routed through it. This enables Uber to pay less in tax. But Uber BV does not hold Uber’s London operating licence.
By now it will be clear that what TfL appears to be confirming is that Uber is guilty of exactly what got Taxify banned - that the company behind the app was not a licensed private hire operator with a [London] licensed premises. Yet Uber is still operating.
Moreover, Uber is still operating with the full blessing of TfL. Can you smell hypocrisy?