Last September, driver and rider matching service Uber was granted an extension to its London operating licence for just two months. There were still unresolved issues with passenger safety and driver identification, as well as insurance issues. Transport for London had given the operator one last chance. And in November, we knew for certain that it had been a last chance - because the next Uber licence application was refused.
The great hope of the gig economy had had its licence revoked - in London of all places. The company will, of course, appeal, with that appeal not expected to be heard until next September. But in the meantime, those who so shamelessly shilled for Uber would do well to examine the real issues: TfL had good reason to refuse them a licence.
TfL’s response to Uber’s application, dated 25 November, makes clear why the decision went the way it did at the outset. “Some of those [regulatory] breaches concerned cases in which drivers were providing PHV services without hire and reward insurance in place. Some … led to [Uber London Limited] pleading guilty to the criminal charge of causing or permitting drivers to use vehicles on a public road for hire and reward without the requisite motor insurance policy. This is a particularly serious public safety issue”.
Uninsured minicabs, anyone? TfL categorised the risk to the paying public as “grave and acute”. Then came the fake drivers: “Some of the breaches have concerned cases in which individuals were providing PHV services, via the Uber app, using another driver’s login. Put simply, the individual in the car was not who they should have been”.
And how bad is that? “This raises important safety concerns because all of the drivers involved have indulged in fraudulent activity and therefore would not be considered fit and proper to hold a private hire driver licence in London”. That bad. And there is more: “this raises substantial public safety concerns; the services might have been provided by an individual with a serious criminal record or a medical issue and/or whose DVLA driving licence, or PHV driving licence, has been revoked”. And that’s not all.
TfL concluded that it had “a lack of confidence in ULL’s ability to prevent new incidents of this kind occurring”. As a result, it commissioned two reports from independent consultant Cognizant. Their reports “did not provide sufficient confidence in ULL’s systems and processes and, in particular, that those systems and processes are currently sufficiently robust to ensure that the kinds of serious breaches described above will not recur”.
There have been problems with data breaches. “ULL has notified TfL of potential data breaches in relation to … A third party contractor called Typeform … On 2 July 2018 … Another third party contractor called SparkPost. On 16 November 2018, ULL notified TfL that ‘SparkPost’ had inadvertently sent email address data concerning Uber users to other customer(s) of theirs”. And there were more in the same vein.
“On 11 December 2018, ULL’s app phone number anonymisation suffered a system outage for two hours. As a result, the personal telephone details of a driver were provided to a passenger and the passenger’s details were available to the driver … On 24 August 2018, ULL notified TfL of a police investigation that had been carried out by West Midlands Police concerning a suspect who had compromised the accounts of thousands of customers of a wide range of international companies, including Uber”. Hmmm.
Worse, there have been concerns raised, not just about uninsured vehicles, but also fraudulent documents (including MOT certificates, PHV licences, PH driver licences, and a variety of insurance documents), the issue of driver photo fraud, and other regulatory breaches, which include failure to notify decisions to suspend or remove drivers from the Uber platform, and notify those removals promptly.
And the pièce de résistance is the revelation that Uber’s previous attitude has not helped it. Here’s how TfL put it. “The overall tone and content of the correspondence from ULL … has been productive and, in the main, transparent. ULL has demonstrated its commitment to finding ways to address issues and concerns raised by TfL. ULL has also apologised to TfL for any areas in which it has failed to properly escalate issues and has also acknowledged the legitimacy of TfL’s concerns. As is expected from a regulated entity, the overall tone of ULL’s correspondence has been respectful to TfL as its regulator”.
Wait for it … “These points are not usually something that TfL pays attention to when determining if an operator is a fit and proper person, but this is relevant for ULL because its historic practice was to correspond with TfL in a dismissive or cursory manner”. Ouch!
The ghost of Travis Kalanick walks abroad yet. The attitude to regulators fostered by Uber’s founding CEO has, ultimately, come back to bite them.
TfL’s revocation of Uber’s London licence was well-founded. I’ll just leave that one there.
Enjoy your visit to Zelo Street? You can help this truly independent blog carry on talking truth to power, while retaining its sense of humour, by adding to its Just Giving page at