When it comes to major shifts in public transport thinking, the rest of the UK invariably follows London’s lead. Thus it was that cities around the UK abandoned their tram networks after they saw London going that way (the capital would have abandoned its trams a lot earlier than 1952, had the war not intervened). The same happened in the wake of London abandoning the trolleybus in 1962.
These precedents will already be known by those in charge at the London end of driver and rider matching service Uber, whose licence was not renewed, so much as rolled on, earlier this year, with the decision kicked down the road for a few more months while someone stepped up to the plate and took the hard decision.
And that decision, announced at 1100 hours today, was that Uber London Ltd would not be getting its licence renewed when it expires on the 30th of September.
Transport for London has spelt out the grounds for its decision. “TfL’s regulation of London’s taxi and private hire trades is designed to ensure passenger safety. Private hire operators must meet rigorous regulations, and demonstrate to TfL that they do so, in order to operate. TfL must also be satisfied that an operator is fit and proper to hold a licence … TfL has concluded that Uber London Limited is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence”.
Why so? “TfL considers that Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications”. These are also spelt out.
“Its approach to reporting serious criminal offences … its approach to how medical certificates are obtained … its approach to how Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) checks are obtained … its approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London, software that could be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app”.
The decision also explains that Uber London Ltd can appeal the decision, and their licence will remain in place pending the exhaustion of that process. As a result, the lawyers are about to get even more heavily involved than they have been previously.
TfL’s decision has not come as a surprise here on Zelo Street, and nor will it to anyone else who has been watching recent goings-on. The welter of unfavourable publicity regarding inappropriate behaviour by drivers, the concerns of the Metropolitan Police, and the way in which Uber has been obtaining licences in London only to have many of those licensed working in other areas, all have counted against them.
The aggressive behaviour of management - Travis Kalanick left it too late to go - along with apparent disregard for the niceties of regulation, and the accident rate for its “partners”, will also count against them. London’s taxi and private hire trades are regulated not merely for fun, but with good reason: punters need to know they are safe.
For Uber in London, as Winshton might have said, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.