London Officials Deal A Blow To Ride-Hailing Company Uber

Originally published on November 25, 2019 11:39 am
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

London authorities dealt a blow to Uber. They have not extended the license of the ride-hailing company. That decision throws into question whether Uber can continue operating in a major European capital. CNN business reporter Hadas Gold is following this from London. Hi, there Hadas.

HADAS GOLD: Hi, Steve. Good morning.

INSKEEP: What did Uber do wrong?

GOLD: So according to Transport for London, which is the London Transport Authority, they said that the company is not fit and proper. It's a very British way of saying that they do not think that they are good enough to pretty much hold a license. They say there have been a pattern of regulatory breaches, specifically citing passenger safety around driver identification. They're saying in the past few months, there have been unauthorized drivers who have uploaded their photos to other Uber drivers accounts and driving round.

Now, TFL says that means about 14,000 journeys were, as a result, uninsured and that some passengers took journeys with unlicensed drivers, at least one of whom had had their license previously revoked. They also say that Uber allowed dismissed or suspended drivers to pretty much create new accounts and because of this, they are taking away their license. Now, Uber has 21 days to file an appeal, and of course, if an appeal process goes to some sort of court process, that could take longer. That means that for the next few weeks, at least, Uber will be allowed to operate.

INSKEEP: OK. So first, not fit and proper is a phrase I'm going to save for use elsewhere, if that's OK with you.

GOLD: (Laughter).

INSKEEP: Second, had they captured a lot of business in London, which we should note has an excellent taxi service with taxi drivers who really know their way around and an excellent subway?

GOLD: Uber is huge in London. I can tell you, as somebody who lives here, I see them all around. And Uber - or London is also really important for Uber because it is one of their top five grossing cities, especially one of the few outside of the Americas that makes this much money. It is a very big deal for them. They're taking this very seriously.

INSKEEP: Isn't this an ongoing fight, though? They've been in trouble with the London authorities before.

GOLD: Yeah, I would say that this one moment is part of sort of the longer negotiation back and forth between the city and Uber. The city first rejected Uber's license renewal in 2017. They got a 15-month extension and then got a short temporary permit to continue operating back in September. I wouldn't be surprised, Steve, if they did work something out.

There are some reports out there that London wants stricter ID requirements on their drivers, including things like biometrics - potentially fingerprint scanning or facial ID. But so far, we don't know whether Uber has agreed to that. But that is something that is being reportedly in the works between the two of them.

INSKEEP: Can I just note, Hadas Gold, every time I hear about Uber getting in trouble with local authorities, I - some part of me wonders why they pay attention at all? Isn't this a business whose entire business model, at least at the beginning, was essentially bypassing or ignoring all the local rules and regulations?

GOLD: That is definitely sometimes the impression that they had been giving. But they're running into this with cities all around the world that are trying to catch up and regulate these organizations because they are essentially, they say, potentially putting people's lives in danger. They're worried about the safety there.

But also, you have to keep in mind that the taxi unions in a lot of these cities are very, very powerful, including, of course, here in London. We have the famous black cab. They are legendary. It takes them two to four years just to pass an exam in order to be able to drive. Some of the unions representing them are very happy with this decision, but they say that, actually, they should be going further and that it's the only decision to keep Londoners safe by completely revoking their license. They think that it should be a one-strike and you're out.

INSKEEP: Just to be clear - Uber drivers in London are not spending two to four years passing an exam to learn where all the streets are?

GOLD: (Laughter) No, as far as I understand, they do not take that exam. And it is sometimes useful to have a cab driver know all of those. But Uber says that they have spent the last two years fundamentally changing how they operate in London. They say that this decision is unfair and wrong and that they will - they do plan to appeal this decision.

INSKEEP: Hadas, thanks for the update. Always appreciate talking with you.

GOLD: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Hadas Gold is a business reporter for CNN in London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.