The private ride company Uber has changed the face of transit. This is especially true in big cities like New York and London, where after a quick tap of an app, poof, someone whisks you away. It can be a beautiful thing. However, in the U.K. capital, Uber is in serious trouble: The company has been stripped of its operating license. The city’s transportation agency, Transport for London (TFL), officially yanked the company’s permit, citing safety and security concerns.
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This move by the London authority has been coming down the pike for some time. Back in 2017, after a high rate of assaults reported by users, the TFL suspended Uber. The attacks – supposedly by drivers – fueled the decision not to renew the company’s private hire operator license; it appeared that Uber was not doing a good job of vetting drivers. The ridesharing business was granted a temporary license to continue operating by the courts and then the TFL. But the dirty little secret ignored by the U.K. press demonstrates the underlying cause of the problem.
Liberty Nation Managing Editor Mark Angelides – who is based in Great Britain – explains:
“It’s an under-publicized fact that in London, many Uber drivers have been sharing their systems. For example, one driver passes his background checks and then allows five or ten of his close friends and family members to use his account. Changing the image of the driver in the system can be done as often as you like.
“What you end up with is dozens, or even hundreds, of Uber drivers — some without actual licenses, some in the U.K. illegally, some disqualified from driving — all using the same driver accounts. It’s a situation exacerbated by the fact that no one in authority is willing to point out that this is particularly prominent in the immigrant community. No one dares ask to see supporting I.D., and no one in Uber seems able to run this down and verify identities.”
Uber executives maintain that every driver in London has had to undergo an audit in the last two months. As well, they are planning more defensive measures. “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,” they countered.
Thus far, the folks at Uber HQ in San Francisco haven’t been able to get out in front of the London dilemma, which has turned into a game of “catch me if you can.” The TFL claims that some 14,000 trips were fulfilled by unauthorized drivers able to scam the Uber system. Still, company executives plan to mount a serious offense against the TFL ruling with an immediate appeal. It’s a situation of not only reputation management but also dollars and cents – or in this case, pounds.
London is a large part of the Uber cash pie, with an estimated 3.5 million riders, so it didn’t come as a huge surprise when its stock tumbled. Company shares fell more than 6% after the London permit was pulled.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan didn’t waste a moment before signaling his virtue in support of the TFL, saying, “Keeping Londoners safe is my absolute number-one priority.” Certainly, Uber isn’t in favor of people abusing its system and assaulting its customers. Making Uber out to be an incompetent bad guy doesn’t advance the ball in any way.
As for now, because operations are allowed to continue while an appeal is filed, nothing will change for consumers. The Uber app will work as the two sides try to resolve the situation.
Read more from Leesa K. Donner.