Uber Loses Operating License in London (Again) Over Safety and Security Issues

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Uber has lost its operating license in London yet again. According to the city’s transportation regulator, Transport for London (TfL), the company has shown a “pattern of failures,” including “several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk.” Uber says it will appeal the decision. Again.

“While we recognize Uber has made improvements, it is unacceptable that Uber has allowed passengers to get into minicabs with drivers who are potentially unlicensed and uninsured,” Helen Chapman, Director of Licensing, Regulation, and Charging at TfL, told Gizmodo in a statement.

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Uber was first stripped of its operating license in September 2017 over a “lack of corporate responsibility,” but the most company’s recent problems involve loopholes in Uber’s driver verification system. Uber allowed drivers who had been banned from the platform to use the accounts of others, create new accounts, and carry unsuspecting passengers.

From the TfL:

A key issue identified was that a change to Uber’s systems allowed unauthorized drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts. This allowed them to pick up passengers as though they were the booked driver, which occurred in at least 14,000 trips - putting passenger safety and security at risk.

This means all the journeys were uninsured and some passenger journeys took place with unlicensed drivers, one of which had previously had their license revoked by TfL.

TfL acknowledges the company has been working to combat fraud committed by drivers, but it’s not clear that Uber has done enough. TfL’s concern, according to its statement, is that Uber’s systems were “easily manipulated” and the regulator doesn’t seem to have any confidence that Uber knows how to protect passengers.

Uber tells Gizmodo that it will appeal the decision, and “will continue to operate as normal” in London for the foreseeable future.

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“TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s license in London is extraordinary and wrong, and we will appeal,” Jamie Heywood, Uber’s Regional General Manager for Northern & Eastern Europe told Gizmodo via email.

“We have fundamentally changed our business over the last two years and are setting the standard on safety. TfL found us to be a fit and proper operator just two months ago, and we continue to go above and beyond.”

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Uber is legally allowed to continue operation until a judge makes a final decision.

There are roughly 45,000 people who drive for Uber in London, according to the company, but those drivers don’t necessarily depend solely on Uber to stay in business. India-based Ola has been expanding internationally and was granted a 15-month license in London by TfL back in July. Estonia-based Bolt, formerly known as Taxify, is also operating with a license in London despite having its own run-ins with TfL in the past.

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For its part, Uber says that its policies around security are even more stringent than traditional cabs, something that Gizmodo could not independently verify.

“Over the last two months we have audited every driver in London and further strengthened our processes,” Uber’s Jamie Heywood told Gizmodo. “We have robust systems and checks in place to confirm the identity of drivers and will soon be introducing a new facial matching process, which we believe is a first in London taxi and private hire.”

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About the author

Matt Novak

Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog