'Sad day for London's travelling public'

Unite slams court decision granting Uber in London new licence to operate despite safety failings

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Ride-hailing app Uber has won its court appeal and has been granted a new 18-month licence to operate in London this week.

Unite slammed the decision after a judge upheld Uber’s appeal against Transport for London (TfL), noting that the business has a long history of breaching safety regulations.

The Westminster Magistrates Court ruled on Monday (September 28) that Uber was “fit and proper” to operate in the capital “despite historic failings”.

The decision comes almost three years since TfL first refused to renew Uber’s operating licence because it said the company’s “approach and conduct demonstrate[d] a lack of corporate responsibility”, after allegations that Uber was looking the other way when its drivers allegedly sexually assaulted passengers, among other transgressions.

Uber then eventually convinced judges to grant it a 15-month licence to continue operating, despite many unresolved issues. It was again refused a licence last November but secured extensions for temporary licences as it appealed the decision.

The biggest concern in the most recent decision to deny Uber a licence was a change to Uber’s systems which allowed drivers not signed up to Uber to fraudulently upload their pictures to Uber drivers’ accounts. Because of this glitch in its systems, about 14,000 trips took place in which the driver picking up a customer was not the driver passengers had booked.

Deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram explained the most recent decision to grant Uber a new licence, nothing that Uber “does not have a perfect record but it has been an improving picture … I am satisfied that they are doing what a reasonable business in their sector could be expected to do, perhaps even more.”

The new licence is contingent on Uber meeting 21 conditions, which were jointly put forward by Uber and TfL.

Commenting, London mayor Sadiq Khan said, “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.”

But Unite warned that Uber’s history of undermining safety regulations time and time and again – often showing no remorse until it has been caught in the act and threatened with sanctions – demonstrates that it is not deserving of a licence.

Chair of the Unite London taxi section Jim Kelly said, “This is a sad day for the travelling public in London and another blow to the taxi drivers in the capital.

“It is our view that Uber has a ruthless business model that undermines safety and long-established regulations and now they have got the green light to continue operating in London which is very disappointing,” he added.

“Our members have high standards of training and knowledge,” Kelly went on to say. “They are trusted by the travelling public – but all that apparently counts for nothing in the pursuit of corporate profit.

“We will need to study the court ruling in detail before commenting further. We will be discussing this with Transport for London (TfL) and with London’s mayor Sadiq Khan to explore what can be done to mitigate this decision.

“This is devastating news for our nearly 1,000 taxi drivers in London and further threatens their income which has already been badly hit by Covid-19 which has seen tourists shy away from the UK and many office staff continuing to work from home,” Kelly continued.

“I genuinely fear for the future of taxis in London, whose history stretches back to hackney coaches in the 1630s.”

By Hajera Blagg

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