After Transport for London declined to renew the licence for driver and rider matching service Uber to operate in the capital, eyes turned to the next licence to be renewed, that being in the city of Brighton and Hove. Uber has been in trouble here too, mostly for the use of out-of-town drivers whose vehicles are not licensed locally, and therefore do not have sealed unit CCTV on board - a local licensing requirement.
Indeed, drivers came not just from London, but from as far afield as Manchester and Liverpool to take part in Uber’s raid on this seaside market. Some of those drivers were caught on camera using their vehicles to sleep in, suggesting they were not exactly raking in the money. Well, now the ruling has been made public, and the request for a routine five year extension to Uber’s licence has been declined.
Instead, they have been awarded a renewal for just six months. And it could have been far worse: as the City Council has told, “We have not been privy to the evidence that TfL relied upon in making their decision. We have requested that evidence, but our request has been denied and the evidence is not likely to be available prior to the appeal hearing”. Had that evidence been available, Uber might have had a straight refusal.
Also, the six month renewal comes with four conditions, agreed between the Council and Uber, with the latter looking like they are trying to avoid what happened in London, especially as the first is “Uber Britannia Limited must not use ‘Greyball’ technology for the purposes of avoiding regulatory or law enforcement activity”.
Likewise, the second agreed condition echoes events in London: “UBL must report to the Council any allegation or complaint relating to certain serious behaviours, especially sexual misconduct, violence, discrimination, wrong driver/vehicle, theft or touting … Upon receiving any allegation or complaint relating to the above serious behaviours, the Operator must take reasonable steps to restrict driver’s access to the app within 24 hours”.
But it is the third agreed condition that will hurt Uber the most, and by accepting it, shows they are now realising the seriousness of all that rule bending. “When a booking is made under UBL’s Brighton and Hove operating licence, the booking confirmation and receipt provided to a passenger will identify that the driver is licensed by Brighton and Hove City Council”. That should see the end of out-of-town drivers.
The fourth agreed condition is that all Uber’s Brighton and Hove licensed drivers must have undergone disability equality training. All of this shows Uber finally taking on board the severity of their predicament. What it also demonstrates to cities and towns across the UK is that, especially in the current climate, Uber’s licences can easily have conditions attached to them to cut out any use of Greyball, force disclosure of misbehaviour, shut out out-of-town drivers, and make sure there are no more problems with the disabled.
All that may be enough to stop Brighton and Hove refusing Uber an operator’s licence. It may not: when TfL finally let everyone know on what evidence they refused Uber’s London licence, the game may be up for good. In the meantime, councils across the UK - do what Brighton has done and use your powers. Make them play by the rules.