Uber got itself out of another pickle today, after a judge restored its licence to operate in London for the next 18 months. Uber is terribly sorry, Uber fucked up, and Uber will do better next time. Sounds familiar…
That’s because Londoners heard that line in 2017, the last time Uber was nearly booted from London. After a UK court took away the company’s ability to classify its drivers as self-employed, local regulator Transport for London (TfL) declined to renew Uber’s licence, declaring that it was not adequately “fit and proper,” an astonishingly British legal term essentially meaning unable to carry out an occupied position or court judgement. Uber was allowed to continue operating through an appeals process and regained a 15-month licence in 2018.
It lost its licence again last year, after those same regulators found “a pattern of failures,” primarily regarding an easy-to-dupe system that allowed people to pose as Uber drivers by uploading their photos to authorised drivers’ accounts, which they estimate involved some 14,788 trips by 24 fake drivers. Somehow, the service was still allowed operate during the lengthy appeals process anyway — which brings us to now.
TfL’s focus remains Uber’s insufficient vetting and reporting processes — including that three Uber drivers who committed sexual assault continued to drive after complaints. In his decision, Deputy Chief Magistrate Tanweer Ikram wrote that Uber had acted quickly enough to meet the “fit and proper” bar. In this case, Ikram weighed whether Uber still poses a significant enough threat to public safety to merit banishment. He essentially decided that the overall number of fraudulent drivers is an acceptable level of risk relative to a company with 45,000 drivers in London; that, after it lost its licence, Uber had implemented sufficient software and reporting safeguards to prevent more violations and assault; and that Uber’s been more communicative with TfL.
Amazing how quickly Uber can fix systemic problems when its arse is on the line!
“[Uber] does not have a perfect record but it has been an improving picture,” he wrote. “I am satisfied that they are doing what a reasonable business in their sector could be expected to do, perhaps even more.”
Uber’s Northern and Eastern Europe regional manager Jamie Heywood said that Uber “will continue working productively with TfL” though Uber has no choice but to do that. The judge’s brief 18 month licence is conditional on safety reports. The 18-month licence is more like probation than getting off scot-free. Typically taxi licenses in London last five years, as was the length of Uber’s pre-2017 licence.
On another front, Uber’s still fighting its scorched earth war against workers, dragging a labour rights case all the way to the UK Supreme Court, which will decide whether its gig workers are entitled to employees’ rights like paid time off and minimum wages. Similarly, they’ve managed to do business as usual in California as they wind through the appeals process to a Superior Court’s ruling that Uber had to classify drivers as employees.