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Uber gets 18-month London licence after winning court appeal

Uber can keep operating in London for another year and a half after winning its appeal of a decision by the British capital’s transit regulator not to renew its licence.

Uber has won its appeal against Transport for London to not renew its licence over safety concerns.

The ride-hailing company had challenged Transport for London’s decision in late 2019 not to renew its operating licence over safety concerns involving impostor drivers.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram said Monday he found Uber to be “fit and proper” and granted the company an 18-month licence extension, which comes with 21 conditions including providing regular, independent reports to authorities.

The company said the decision is a “recognition of Uber’s commitment to safety” and it will “continue to work constructively” with the regulator.

The ride-hailing service lost US$1.8 billion in the last quarter amid the coronavirus pandemic which saw people taking refuge at home.

It’s a crucial legal victory in a lucrative European market as the company struggles to turn a profit. Uber posted a US$1.8 billion loss in the latest quarter because millions of people stayed home amid the pandemic. That has raised doubts that it can meet its goal of becoming profitable by 2021. The company faces a slew of other regulatory challenges around the globe. In Britain, it’s also involved in a separate case at the Supreme Court over whether drivers should be considered workers with rights, in a ruling that could shake up the country’s gig economy.

Uber’s London licence has been revoked twice since 2017 but the company has been able to continue operating while it appealed.

In the latest case, Transport for London rejected Uber’s application in November 2019 for a new licence, citing several breaches that placed passengers at risk. Most notably, the regulator found that a change Uber made to its systems allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to other driver accounts and carry out at least 14,000 uninsured rides.

A user turn on the Uber app on his cellphone.

The magistrate said he took into account Uber’s efforts to improve oversight and tighten up identity checks. He said he didn’t find any evidence of a “cover up” of the driver photo fraud problem.

“Uber doesn’t have a perfect record but it has an improving picture,” Ikram said. “I am satisfied that they are doing what a reasonable business in their sector could be expected to do, perhaps even more.”

Uber’s 45,000 drivers normally provide millions of trips each month in London, where its services have proved popular with residents who want an alternative to the city’s more expensive traditional black cabs. However, the company has faced fierce opposition to its services from cab drivers.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that while Uber has made improvements to get its license back, the company will still be closely scrutinised.

“I can assure Londoners that TfL will continue to closely monitor Uber and will not hesitate to take swift action should they fail to meet the strict standards required to protect passengers,” Khan said.