Time is almost up for Uber Technologies Inc in London, with the city’s transit authority to announce as soon as Monday whether it will grant the ride-hailing company a new license to operate.
If Transport for London decides against Uber, the company could face expulsion on Tuesday from its most important European market. A new long-term license would provide a level of certainty that Uber and its roughly 45,000 London drivers have not experienced in years.
London’s ride-sharing market has changed significantly since Transport for London in 2017 said that Uber was not “fit and proper” to hold a license. New entrants, such as Ola, ViaVan and Bolt, have since gained licenses to operate in the city. Uber has also faced a series of lawsuits in the UK, including losing a case over drivers’ employment rights.
Dara Khosrowshahi was only weeks into his new job as Uber’s chief executive officer in 2017 when Transport for London said that the company failed to do adequate background checks on drivers and report serious criminal offenses. It also took issue with Uber software called Greyball that blocked British government officials attempting to catch lawbreaking drivers.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan defended the regulator’s decision, saying that “providing an innovative service must not be at the expense of customer safety and security.”
A public apology came alongside an appeal that let Uber keep operating until a court hearing. Khosrowshahi implemented a number of changes in the months that followed: Drivers would have mandatory breaks after 10 hours of work and get insurance packages to cover them for lost earnings during an illness or injury. Driver advisory groups were created to let workers report concerns to senior Uber staff along with 24-hour phone support lines for riders and drivers.
There are signs that Uber will win a license to operate “for 15 months or even three years,” Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Aitor Ortiz said. “New competitors in the capital — such as Ola and ViaVan — indicate that Transport for London might be granting more licenses to increase competition.”
Jim Kelly, a taxi driver and chair of the London and eastern region of workers’ union Unite, said that Transport for London’s measures for regulating Uber and similar companies do not go far enough.
“It’s in Uber’s DNA to undermine regulation and create a race to the bottom in towns and cities where they operate,” Kelly said.
A spokeswoman for Uber declined to comment.
Representatives for Transport for London did not respond to a request for comment.
In June last year, Uber secured a 15-month probationary license to operate in London. While falling short of the five-year private-hire permit the company previously held, it gave Uber some breathing room to focus on its upcoming initial public offering.
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