Uber’s Future in London Rests on Two Key Rulings on Monday

(Bloomberg) — Uber Technologies Inc. faces a two-pronged test to regain its London license when a judge issues his ruling Monday.



a hand holding a cellphone: A commuter uses the Uber Technologies Inc. app on a smartphone in view of 30 St Mary Axe also known as 'the Gherkin' in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Uber lost its license in London for the second time in less than three years, putting one of its biggest markets outside of the U.S. at risk after the transport regulator said it failed to address safety concerns.


© Bloomberg
A commuter uses the Uber Technologies Inc. app on a smartphone in view of 30 St Mary Axe also known as ‘the Gherkin’ in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Uber lost its license in London for the second time in less than three years, putting one of its biggest markets outside of the U.S. at risk after the transport regulator said it failed to address safety concerns.

The ride-hailing app’s future in its biggest European market hinges on whether Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram finds it “fit and proper” to operate in the capital. If he does, Transport for London and Uber will negotiate a license, and the judge will have to approve the length. If it loses, Uber can continue its business while appealing.

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The license review is just one of a number of legal battles the California-based firm is fighting. It is facing other lawsuits, including in its home state, that would give drivers expanded employment rights that could wreck its gig-economy business model. Uber says it’s improved the London operations, and will appeal any loss, a process that would take years.

“Most people expect Uber to have done enough to keep their license, even if it’s similar to last time, when they were granted a limited extension,” Anna McCaffrey, an employment lawyer at Taylor Wessing, said by phone.

“I think it would be quite a surprise, although not impossible, for them to be unfit and proper and out of London forever,” she said.

In November, TfL revoked its license for the second time over safety concerns. To find Uber “fit and proper,” the judge would have to be satisfied that it has the qualities and capabilities that are reasonably expected of a private-hire vehicle operator, the company said in written documents.

Ikram will release his decision after 10 a.m. London time Monday at Westminster Magistrates Court.

TfL declined to comment. Uber’s manager for Northern & Eastern Europe Jamie Heywood said the firm has worked hard to address the regulator’s concerns and is “committed to keeping people moving safely around the city.”

License Length

Uber and TfL will receive the ruling earlier than the public, so they have time to negotiate the length of the license if Uber wins the case. They will also negotiate the list of conditions attached to the license, which the company is obliged to meet.

Uber’s lawyers have asked for one hour at most to make submissions. The judge will then either decide to grant Uber the negotiated license, or hand it a shorter one.

Two years ago, when Uber had its first court appeal for its London permit, it asked for 18 months but the judge only grave 15 months, subject to a list of 14 conditions. Uber is currently subject to 20 conditions, with six new ones being introduced last year, mostly tackling driver-photo identification and insurance fraud. Before its license was first revoked in 2017, it had operated on a five-year permit.



a hand holding a cellphone: A commuter uses the Uber Technologies Inc. app on a smartphone in view of 30 St Mary Axe also known as 'the Gherkin' in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Uber lost its license in London for the second time in less than three years, putting one of its biggest markets outside of the U.S. at risk after the transport regulator said it failed to address safety concerns.


© Bloomberg
A commuter uses the Uber Technologies Inc. app on a smartphone in view of 30 St Mary Axe also known as ‘the Gherkin’ in this arranged photograph in London, U.K., on Monday, Nov. 25, 2019. Uber lost its license in London for the second time in less than three years, putting one of its biggest markets outside of the U.S. at risk after the transport regulator said it failed to address safety concerns.

The length of the license Uber asks for will depend on its executives’ view on its compliance with the “fit and proper” test, McCaffrey said. If the company feels the judgment entirely vindicates them, it will probably have the confidence to ask for a longer extension. But if the ruling is more ambivalent, and points to areas it still needs to improve on, it may ask for a more cautious length like last time, she said.

Mea Culpa

At last week’s hearing in the case, Uber was accused by the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, which represents some of the city’s black-cab drivers, of attempting to hide the fraudulent use of photo identification by some drivers from the regulator.

Uber said it “emphatically rejected” the allegation. Heywood apologized for its “inadequate” communication of the issue to TfL. He also used his testimony as a chance to offer the regulator a mea culpa for Uber’s past regulatory breaches.

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