Ride-hailing firm Uber has won its appeal to be granted a new London operator’s licence following a court ruling, despite the magistrate acknowledging their ‘historical failings’.
Deputy Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram today deemed the private hire firm to be a ‘fit and proper person to hold a London Private Hire Vehicle operator’s licence’.
As part of the court appeal which started on Tuesday 15 September, Uber appealed against Transport for London’s (TfL) decision not to renew its operating licence because of safety breaches that put passengers at risk.
In November 2019 London’s regulators announced that it would not grant the minicab firm a new private hire operator’s licence following its latest application.
Following the latest appeal Uber are now declared 'fit and proper' to operate private hire vehicles in the capital, following the hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court earlier this month.
In the summary of conclusions, Deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram, stated: "I weigh ULL’s record on breaches of regulations and impact on public safety. I take into account their number. Public confidence in the licensing regime is a clear consideration.
"Some breaches in themselves are just so serious that their mere occurrence is evidence that the operator is not fit and proper to hold a licence. I do not find this to be one of those cases."
During the court appeal there were accusations that Uber tried to cover up a major safety flaw which allowed drivers to use fake identities. Chief Magistrate Tan Ikram denied any evidence stated: "I do not find any evidence of concealment or ‘cover up’ on the part of ULL as regards the driver photo fraud issue."
The Magistrate went on to add: "I have weighed ULL’s record of engagement with TfL and clear improvements in communication.
"Cognizant instructed by TfL had initially found that ULL’s ITSM processes were not to appropriate standard. TfL accept that there have been subsequent changes and that, now, ‘ULL’s ITSM processes are now of a standard that they would expect of a company in ULL’s position. ULL’s changes have plugged the gaps identified by Cognizant.’ This was the residual area of concern in terms of systems and processes. I find it has been adequately addressed.
"Despite their historical failings, I find them, now, to be a fit and proper person to hold a London PHV operator’s licence."
Responding to the decision, Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), an interested party in the case, said: “Today’s decision is a disaster for London. Uber has demonstrated time and time again that it simply can’t be trusted to put the safety of Londoners, its drivers and other road users above profit. Sadly, it seems that Uber is too big to regulate effectively, but too big to fail.
“Uber’s own witnesses admitted a series of failures to address the photo fraud issue, which put passengers at risk. Shockingly, they also accepted that they were not upfront with TfL – suggesting the issue had been addressed, when they knew full well it hadn’t.
“By holding up their hands and finally accepting some responsibility, Uber has managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the Court and create the false impression that it has changed for the better. A leopard doesn’t change its spots and we are clear that Uber’s underlying culture remains as toxic as it has ever been.
“The Judge himself has recognised that Uber has more to do, noting that ULL is ‘not perfect’ but ‘improving’ and has ‘reduced incidents’. He is setting a very low bar for a company whose track record clearly shows it can’t be trusted to disclose serious incidents and one that has consistently failed to do the right thing. He is playing Russian roulette with the safety of Londoners and I fear it’s only a matter of time until the next incident.”
Liam Griffin, CEO of private hire firm Addison Lee, said: “We are disappointed by today’s decision. This is the second time Uber have been deemed unfit by the regulator for serious safety breaches and yet again they have been granted a reprieve, which we believe puts passengers at risk. Uber has allowed nearly 15,000 journeys to occur where the passenger in the back of the vehicle wasn’t being driven by the correct driver – in some cases by someone who wasn’t even licensed to drive a Private Hire Vehicle.
“Safety is fundamental to the Private Hire industry, and these breaches are evidence that Uber is unable to guarantee its passengers that they know who is driving them and their families around London. The Magistrate and TfL should impose significant conditions on Uber’s licence to ensure Londoner’s safety; however, these will only be effective if Uber implements them and are held accountable should they fail to meet them.”
Steve Garelick, GMB London Region Organiser said: “Uber has moved heaven and earth to keep its London licence.
“Drivers now need to see the same level of commitment put into improving their working conditions and safety.”