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Uber denied London licence in shock move that bans cars from city's streets

James Titcomb
Uber has 3.5m users in London - EPA

Uber launched an unprecedented attack on Transport for London, accusing the transport body of bending to minority interests and closing the door on high-tech companies after it was stripped of its licence to operate.

TfL denied Uber’s application to renew its private hire licence in London, effectively barring the ride-hailing app from running its business in the capital, and accused the company of a string of failings that it said made it unfit to operate.

Uber promised to lodge an appeal with days and launched a public lobbying campaign to overturn the ban, seeking to mobilise its 3.5m users in London against TfL and London’s mayor Sadiq Khan.

It claimed the decision would put 40,000 drivers out of work thanks to “a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice”. The company will be able to keep running in London during the appeal, which is likely to take months. It has drafted in law firm Hogan Lovells to help with the appeal.

TfL announced Friday morning that it would not renew Uber’s licence after it expires on September 30 and said the company was not “fit and proper” to hold a licence. It accused the company of ”a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications”, namely how it reports criminal offences, its handling of drivers’ background checks and the use of software known as “Greyball” allegedly designed to evade regulators.

Uber | UK areas of operation

Uber, an app that links up drivers with passengers using a smartphone’s GPS technology, arrived in London in 2012 and the city counts as one of the San Francisco-based company’s key territories.

However, it has no shortage of opponents, who accuse it of adding to congestion, ruining London’s established taxi trade, and treating its own drivers poorly. Black cab groups had demanded that TfL deny Uber a licence, saying they would take legal action if it allowed the company to continue.

Tom Elvidge, Uber’s general manager for London, issued a furious response that sought to pit the company on the side of consumers and drivers, who are not employees of Uber but contractors who are paid per job.

“By wanting to ban our app from the capital Transport for London and the Mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice. If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport,” he said.

“To defend the livelihoods of all those drivers, and the consumer choice of millions of Londoners who use our app, we intend to immediately challenge this in the courts.”

Mr Khan said he “fully supports” the decision.

A taxi driver reacts outside Paddington Station Credit: PA

The news is a huge blow to Uber, and piles yet another crisis on Dara Khosrowshahi, its new chief executive. Mr Khosrowshahi was appointed last month after Uber’s founder Travis Kalanick was forced to step down amid allegations of corporate impropriety and a widespread culture problem, triggered by allegations of sexism from a former employee Susan Fowler. The claims led to an internal investigation that ultimately led the company to fire dozens of staff.

Uber has faced regulatory attacks and government investigations in multiple countries and cities over alleged improprieties. It has often relied on major public campaigns to encourage regulators back down, including in London, where a series of crackdowns proposed in 2015 were watered down.

It has launched a petition against the ban that has garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures within hours.

Uber controversies timeline