Uber granted a 15-month licence to operate in London

Taxi-hailing app wins a probationary licence after making sweeping changes

Uber has been granted a 15-month probationary licence to operate in London following a two-day hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court.

Chief magistrate Emma Arbuthnot said the San Fransisco-based taxi company was now considered "fit and proper" to hold a licence, after hearing of the sweeping operational changes it had made since Transport for London (TfL) opted not to renew its licence last year.

The company now offers 24-hour telephone support for drivers and passengers and an improved reporting process for criminal actions. It has also limited driver hours, clamped down on drivers using the app in other territories and is offering better insurance coverage for independent drivers in Europe, which include sickness, injury and maternity and paternity payments.

TfL ruled that the ride-hailing firm was not fit and proper to hold a private hire vehicle operator licence last September, citing concerns about the public safety and security regarding Uber's failure to report crimes to the police.

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Helen Chapman, director of licensing regulation and charging at TfL, told the court that Uber had resisted regulation during the first five years of operation and that there had been "insufficient time" to see whether the firm had really changed, according to the Guardian.

"We've had five years of a very difficult relationship, where Uber has felt that it hasn't required regulation," she said, adding that it had been "frankly frustrating" that TfL was made aware of issues via the media rather than by Uber itself.

At the start of the two-day hearing, Uber admitted that TfL's original decision not to renew its five-year licence was correct and has said it will work to earn TfL's trust again.

Accordingly, the licence comes with conditions Uber must meet, including compiling a six-monthly, independently verified report into its progress, and giving TfL a month's notice of any changes to its operating model.

"We are pleased with today's decision," said Tom Elvidge, general manager of Uber in the UK. "We will continue to work with TfL to address their concerns and earn their trust while providing the best possible service for our customers."

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said TfL's stance had been vindicated by the court, which ordered Uber to pay TfL's 425,000 legal costs.

"As a result of us standing up for Londoners, Uber has been forced to overhaul the way it operates not just in London but across the world, including completely changing its global governance structures and implementing new systems for reporting alleged crimes," he said.

"As mayor, I'm working to ensure that London continues to be at the forefront of innovation and a natural home for new and exciting companies. But no matter how powerful and how big you are, you must play by the rules."

Reacting to the decision yesterday, secretary of state for digital, Matt Hancock, tweeted: "Glad to see sense has prevailed on Uber and millions of Londoners can continue to use their great service."

25/6/2018: Uber goes to court in bid to regain London Licence 

Uber is set to appeal against Transport for London's (TfL's) decision to revoke its London licence today, hoping to overturn a ruling last year that the company is unfit to run a taxi service in the capital.

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The taxi app company will make its case at Westminster Magistrates' Court today in a "de novo" hearing, which means the court is deciding whether Uber is "fit and proper" to hold an operator licence following the changes it has made to its service over the last year.

Uber's UK general manager, Tom Elvidge, wrote in the Evening Standard last month that the September 2017 decision was a "wake-up call".

"As we reflected on what had happened our initial response rightly changed, we had to look to ourselves rather than blame others," he said. "TfL's decision soon became the latest wake-up call for a company that had grown incredibly quickly but still needed to grow up.

"Over the past year, we've been working hard to put right past mistakes as we've gone through a much-needed period of reflection and change. Our new global CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi, is establishing a new culture and direction for the company from the top, while in the UK we've brought in three experienced independent directors to help us stay on the right track."

That's rather different to what Elvidge said at the time, when he stated: "This ban would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies who bring choice to consumers."

TfL chose not to renew the company's private hire operator licence after a string of reports of London-licensed Uber drivers being accused of "category A" offences such as sexual incidents, stalking and dangerous driving.

At the time TfL also said that Uber's approach and conduct demonstrated a lack of corporate responsibility and added that the company failed to report serious criminal offences and questioned how it obtained Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks for its drivers, concluding that it was "not fit and proper" to hold the licence.

Uber aims to demonstrate that it has made significant changes, such as improving its procedures for reporting criminal actions, 24-hour telephone support for passengers and drivers, limits on driver hours and changes to its app that aim to provide more clarity to the user as to whether their taxi booking has been made.

It also now offers "a range of" free insurance coverage for independent drivers and couriers in Europe including sickness, injury and maternity and paternity payments. It lost an appeal last November against a tribunal ruling that classified UK Uber drivers as employees.

Lastly, the company has also clamped down on driver territories, preventing cross-border driving so that drivers only use the app in the region where they are licensed.

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IT Pro has approached TfL for comment.

Picture: Shutterstock

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