The reasons why driver and rider matching service Uber lost its licence to operate in London, given at the time in summary form, are now being given in the kind of detail that shows someone there seriously - and apparently deliberately - misled Transport for London in order to convince them that the Uber app operated in a way that complied with current regulations for Private Hire vehicles - when it did not.
Worse, it took TfL some time to realise that Uber was lying to it, but when the penny dropped, the dishonesty, along with the behaviour of far too many of its drivers, did for the company. After one read through the tale of deception, no-one should be in any doubt that the decision not to grant Uber a licence on the grounds that the company was not “fit and proper” to operate in London was the right one.
Uber has a reputation for playing fast and loose with regulations. This time they did so by pretending to comply with them. TfL’s letter conveying the bad news on the licence application says this: “It is considered that ULL misled TfL in correspondence in 2014 as to the process by which bookings are accepted through the Uber app. In particular, ULL provided a false picture of the order in which various steps take place, when a booking is being accepted”. So why would they do that?
“TfL had asked ULL to explain its systems, and had been clear that we would rely on their answers when determining the lawfulness of their operating model”. Why so? Well, TfL’s “concern was to clarify whether ULL, Uber BV (another entity within the Uber group of companies) or Uber’s partner drivers were accepting bookings or making provision for the invitation and acceptance of bookings”. And the conclusion?
“In response by letter dated 17 March 2014, ULL said that, in its view, it was accepting bookings”. So just like a normal Private Hire operator, then. A booking is accepted by the company, which then gets a driver to do the job. But, it then became clear, Uber was attempting to be all things to all men - and said something else to the Canadians.
This is what Uber told the Superior Court of Justice in Ontario: “None of the respondents [the local Uber company] nor any of their employees or agents accepts calls or requests from passengers for the purposes of arranging transportation, nor does any of them dispatch drivers to passengers ... the driver has sole and complete discretion over whether to receive, accept or reject request”. So was the booking system different for Canada?
Well, no it wasn’t. After much investigation, it was concluded that Uber was using the same booking system for both operations, and then telling the authorities what they would need to hear in order to approve the Uber operations there. Or, as it is usually called, lying.
TfL went back to Uber, and ultimately had to engage the services of an IT Systems Architect. The conclusion exposed the lie: “Contrary to ULL’s explanations of the booking process to TfL in the 2014 Correspondence and to the High Court in the Taximeter challenge, it is clear that ULL’s system automatically ‘accepts’ the booking only after a driver has ‘accepted’ the trip”. Uber’s systems were unlawful. Oh dear!
TfL went back to Uber for “clarification”. The response was, with some serious understatement, described as “Unconvincing”. Worse, in 2014 “ULL was clear and precise as to the ‘chronology’ of the acceptance process: its answers did not ‘lack precision’; on the contrary, they were precise, but false. The same is true of the evidence it provided in the Taximeter case”. The Taximeter case revolved around claims the Uber app was effectively a Taximeter in the vehicle - in other words, unlawful. So it appears that Uber may have perjured themselves before the courts.
And it got worse: “ULL asserts that its answers in 2014 were influenced by the fact that Uber was only operating in London at the time and not other areas of the UK. It is not clear how the fact that Uber is operating elsewhere in the UK changes or affects the way in which bookings are accepted”. Deflection on top of lying.
All that is before the potential use of Greyball technology to “circumvent the enforcement activities of officials who were responsible for regulating Uber’s businesses”. It is before considering all the criminal behaviour of some Uber drivers, and the company’s reluctance to not only deal with the criminality properly, but let the Police know about it.
These details show very clearly why all the Uber cheerleaders have fallen silent recently, after their initial exhibition of bluster and faux outrage after the news broke that TfL had refused to grant the company another licence. It also shows not only a cavalier disregard for regulations, but a willingness to lie in order to paper over the cracks.
Not only was TfL right not to grant Uber a further licence to operate in London, but it should arguably never have granted the company one in the first place. And if TfL is right to refuse Uber a licence - because their app does not comply with the law - then every other licensing authority in the UK should be following suit.
This is another little Wild West Show that needs running out of town. Every town.