BusinessDay

Uber begins legal bid to regain London licence

Uber will defend its right to operate in London on Monday, in the latest court case surrounding the ride-hailing app’s culture and conduct under founder Travis Kalanick.

Transport for London stunned commuters last September when it banned Uber after finding the company was “not fit and proper to hold a licence” to operate in the capital. The company appealed against the decision and has continued operations ahead of this week’s hearing at Westminster Magistrates Court, which is expected to last three days.

London is Uber’s biggest European market, with more than 3.6m users and around 45,000 drivers.

In a litany of accusations published alongside the ban last September, TfL said that Uber had misled authorities in written correspondence and failed to answer questions accurately about its model for accepting trips. The regulator also raised concerns about the app’s approach to safety and its use of software called “Greyball” to avoid scrutiny by providing authorities with a different version of the app.

“Uber provided a false picture of the order in which various steps take place, when a booking is being accepted,” TfL said at the time, adding: “Uber has demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of other issues which have potential public safety implications.”

Uber has denied deliberately misleading regulators or posing a safety threat. It has also said it had not used Greyball in London.

The company has struck a more conciliatory stance towards regulators in recent months under its new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who replaced Mr Kalanick as chief executive at the end of last summer.

And in London, a series of changes have already been rolled out to placate TfL.

Within weeks of his appointment, Mr Khosrowshahi flew to the UK to meet TfL’s commissioner, Mike Brown. After initially saying he was “disappointed” by London’s decision, Mr Khosrowshahi has since apologised to Londoners for past mistakes.

In a bid to address safety concerns, Uber now reports violent incidents involving its drivers to the police, and has made a multimillion-pound investment in call centre staff to handle questions. It also allows riders to see drivers’ license numbers when they book trips.

The company has also allowed public access to its data on traffic and travel conditions and capped the number of hours UK drivers can work before they take a break.

Uber is expected to agree to an additional set of conditions about its governance and approach to regulation if it is granted another license following this week’s hearing.

Uber is no stranger to legal disputes. The app is facing tougher government oversight across the EU following a decision last year from the European Court of Justice that it should be regulated like a traditional taxi company instead of a technology group.

Last November, the app was also dragged through a court battle in San Francisco with Waymo, the self-driving car unit of Alphabet, after it was accused of attempting to steal trade secrets. Mr Khosrowshahi drew a line under the lawsuit with a $245m settlement.

And the company lost a key employment tribunal ruling in London last November, after it was told it must treat drivers as “workers” entitled to the minimum wage and holiday pay. It is also appealing against that decision, with the next hearing scheduled for October.

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