Is Uber now fit to run a taxi service in London?

The company says it has mended its ways and seeks to have its license re-issued in the city. Should the judge agree?
26 June 2018

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. Source: Flickr / Ecole polytechnique

Ride-hailing services across the world are facing more and more scrutiny as regulators want to safeguard citizens.

In September last year, the United Kingdom’s Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew the company’s license to operate in the country as it felt the US cab company was not a “fit and proper” private car hire operator.

Without Uber, its 3.5 million users will be forced to get back to the expensive black city cabs and other modes of public transport.

The reason Uber failed to qualify for a renewal was primarily due to the various criminal offences committed by drivers and lapses in the company’s screening and background verification process.

Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, said that the company would appeal against the ruling, and although he disagreed with the decision, it was based on past behavior (when he wasn’t part of the company).

“The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation,” he wrote in a message to company executives when the news came out. “It really matters what people think of us, especially in a global business like ours.”

Khosrowshahi, in his message, emphasized that it is critical for the company to act with integrity in everything they did and important for them to learn how to be a better partner to every city they operate in.

“That doesn’t mean abandoning our principles – we will vigorously appeal TfL’s decision – but rather building trust through our actions and our behavior,” Khosrowshahi emphasized.

In doing so, the CEO expects to show that Uber is not just a really great product, but a really great company that is meaningfully contributing to society, beyond its business and its bottom line.

Khosrowshahi even pledged to “make things right” in London and has, over time, introduced several new initiatives, including 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to the city’s police.

Uber also has revamped its senior management, indicating a new culture and commitment to safety is being made at the company.

Yesterday, in a London court, Uber accepted it had made mistakes but said it had changed. The company is now seeking an 18-month license, a trial period of sorts, to prove to authorities that it has, in fact, changed for the better.

According to Reuters, Uber UK’s General Manager Tom Elvidge admitted its correspondence with TfL had at times been inaccurate, incomplete and inadequate.

Elvidge said that a change of personnel and policies would help avoid similar issues in the future, and credited Khosrowshahi with changing the broader culture of the company after the resignation of his predecessor, Travis Kalanick.

Laurel Powers-Freeling, who was hired by Uber following the rejection of its license last year as its UK Chairman, said she had seen evidence of a shifting culture at the firm.

“I’ve seen a lot of cultural change. I’ve seen a lot of improvement in the systems and processes” Powers-Freeling told Reuters.

The GMB trade union said that Uber needed to demonstrate that it had adopted “real change” in its approach to passenger safety in order to win back its license.

However, Judge Emma Arbuthnot said she thought 18 months “would be rather too long.”

TfL’s lawyer has told the court that if Judge Arbuthnot does decide to grant Uber a London license, it should be under strict conditions which the regulator has agreed with Uber, and for a short time-period, as there are questions over whether the changes implemented can be relied upon.

The court will hear evidence from Helen Chapman, TfL’s Interim Director of Licensing, Regulation, and Charging, today, after which Judge Arbuthnot will make a decision.

However, it seems that citizens aren’t particularly excited about Uber’s services, with plenty of users complaining about its surge pricing, tariffs, and quality.