This week, the appeal of driver and rider matching service Uber against TfL’s decision to refuse it a licence renewal has been heard, and the result has just been announced. It seems all those who believe that Uber is A Very Wonderful Thing can breathe easily now, but only for a short while: the verdict is that the coveted five year licence has still not been approved, and that there are a list of conditions attached.
The decision, handed down by a magistrate and not by TfL, is that Uber can operate in London for another 15 months. Also, it is being stressed that this is very much a probation period. But the overwhelming evidence that shows this has been an illegal operation from the very moment it arrived in the capital appears to have been disregarded. For that alone, Uber should have been run out of town. And there is more.
Apparent interference by Downing Street has also not been considered: this included the pretence that Uber was bringing inward investment to the UK, but it was not. Their drivers paid for their cars; all that Uber provided was the app. And it was that app which broke the law. So unless the app has been significantly re-engineered, Uber will still be breaking the law every time one of its drivers accepts a job.
So it will be interesting to see the list of conditions that has been placed on Uber by the magistrate deciding their appeal. As the Anderson Shelter has told, Uber “have been dispatching 2 million jobs illegally on a weekly basis for the last six years”. That having been established, no regulator - and no arbitrator of appeals - should have had any problem with telling them it was Game Over.
The Anderson Shelter again: “This verdict has stunned the London Taxi and private hire trades … Over 100 London cabbies have handed their badges back to TfL over the last 18 months … Hundreds of Private Hire operates have been put out of business, not being able to compete with Uber's subsidised predator pricing … This decision will probably also see the end of purpose built LEVC taxis, as no one will be able to afford them”.
Uber apologists, who care only about the short-term gain of cheap fares - achieved by the parent company losing hundreds of millions of US Dollars a year as it seeks to put the competition out of business - will be over the moon. Selfish and overpaid pundits, editors, and indeed downmarket radio show presenters, will be queuing up to tell what a victory this is for choice and freedom. It is nothing of the sort.
It is about the return of the robber baron: Uber is in business not to offer choice, but to remove choice by putting established taxi and private hire operations out of business. Its drivers have freedom only to be prisoners of the app, many working such long hours that they fall asleep at the wheel. Accident rates among London’s Uber community are horrendous; the sight of another bent Toyota Prius just part of the capital’s scenery.
Perhaps the list of conditions will force Uber to behave legally, but one should not hold one’s breath. In another 15 months’ time, and tens of millions more illegally accepted jobs down the road, the company will be even more heavily entrenched.
This has not been a good day for London. But it isn’t over until it’s over.