London strips Uber of its licence, citing public safety

Taxi service company Uber has been dealt with a hammer blow after London stripped it of its licence to operate in the British capital.

Transport for London (TfL) has deemed the Silicon Valley technology giant was not fit and proper to hold a private vehicle hire licence and its current agreement won't be renewed when it expires on September 30.

Uber, whose 40,000 drivers in London account for a third of private vehicles hired, said it would contest the decision and TfL will allow it operate until the appeals process is exhausted.

"Uber's approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications," TfL said.

"TfL must also be satisfied that an operator is fit and proper to hold a licence."

Specifically, TfL cited Uber's approach to reporting serious criminal offences, background checks on drivers and software called Greyball that could be used to block regulators from gaining full access to the app.

"Transport for London and the Mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice," said Tom Elvidge, Uber's general manager in London.

"We intend to immediately challenge this in the courts."

The loss of the licence comes after a tumultuous few months for Uber, including a string of scandals involving allegations of sexism and bullying at the San Francisco-based start-up that forced out former CEO and co-founder Travis Kalanick.

Uber, which is valued at about US$70 billion and whose investors include Goldman Sachs, has faced protests around the world for shaking up long-established taxi markets.

London's traditional black cab drivers have attacked Uber, saying it has undercut safety rules and threatened their livelihoods.

Uber has faced criticised by unions and politicians and been embroiled in legal battles over workers' rights.

London police also complained in a letter published that Uber was either not disclosing, or taking too long, to report serious crimes including sexual assaults and this put the public at risk.

Uber said then its drivers passed the same rigorous checks as black cab drivers and it has always followed TfL's rules on reporting serious incidents and it had a dedicated team that worked closely with London's police.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has criticised Uber in the past, said he backed the decision to reject its application for a new licence.

"It would be wrong if TfL continued to license Uber if there is any way that this could pose a threat to Londoners' safety and security," he said.

Black cabs drivers have welcomed Friday's decision.

"Their standards are not up to scratch," said 71-year-old Walt Burrows, who has driven a black cab for 39 years.

"The black cab is an iconic part of London. What you get with a black cab is a metered fare and you know you're safe."

Reuters