Uber Wins Probationary Licence to Operate in London, in Court Fight

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Uber argued in court that it had “grown up”

Uber, the company behind the ride-hailing mobile app service will be able to continue operating in London after being granted a 15-month probationary licence in a court ruling.  The Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Uber noting that the company has made some of significant changes to its business practices, and that it has agreed to stricter regulations and regular audits.

Uber has been locked in a legal battle after the licensing authority Transport for London (TfL), announced last autumn that it would not be renewing Uber’s private hire operator licence in London after its expiry on 30 September 2017.  TfL decided that Uber “was not fit and proper” to hold a licence following a series of allegations, mainly in relation to public safety and security.  This was a major setback for Uber as London is the company’s most lucrative markets in Europe, with over 5 million users and around 50,000 drivers.

Uber argued in court that it had changed and had “grown up” following change of leadership and business practices.  The lawyer representing Uber, Tom de la Mare QC admitted that Uber “did some things that are pretty stupid to be frank”.

Great victory for Uber chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi

Some commentators assert that the court case has been a test for the conciliatory approach towards regulators taken by Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber’s new Chief Executive, who has made it a priority to show officials around the world that the company can comply with local rules.

The general manager for Uber’s UK office Tom Elvidge, told the court: “I agree that Uber London Limited (ULL) and Uber generally was undergoing a period of significant change and, in light of what was available to TfL, given the mistakes that ULL made, I absolutely accept that decision in September.”

The judge, Emma Arbutnot, said: “I have given particular weight to the conditions agreed between the parties. Taking into account the new governance arrangements I find that, while Uber was not a fit and proper person when the decision was taken and the months after, it is now a fit and proper person”.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “Uber has been put on probation — their 15 month licence has a clear set of conditions that TfL will thoroughly monitor and enforce.”

Still, some are not convinced that the changes are enough to assess Uber’s culture and operations.  In a witness statement, the licensing director for TfL, Helen Chapman, said that “it is difficult for TfL to assess Uber London Limited’s changes to its corporate culture and approach, because they will take time to become embedded in the business”.

The general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Driver’s Association, also expressed the association’s disappointment with the decision.

The ruling marks a significant victory for Uber ahead of its planned initial public offering next year, its relaunch in Finland after new regulations comes into effect next month, and the next employment tribunal hearing appeal schedule for October 2018 in the UK.