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LONDON: Uber goes to court on Monday to overturn a decision terminating its license in London after being declared unfit to run a taxi service in its most important European market.
Uber has investigated more than 2,500 drivers in London for alleged offences including sex assaults, stalking and dangerous driving, documents handed to regulators show. The firm has also carried out medical and sight tests on at least 800 potential drivers using Skype.
The figures form part of Uber’s court appeal starting today against its ban in London. Transport for London (TfL) revoked its licence in September after revelations that the police had accused it of failing to report sex attacks and other crimes. Uber continues to operate in the capital pending the outcome of its appeal. It is fighting similar bans in Brighton, York and Reading.
Regulator Transport for London (TfL) stunned the Silicon Valley firm last September by declining to renew its license, citing failings in its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and to background checks on drivers.
The outcome of this week’s hearing may not be conclusive. Several experts tell media that while Uber is unlikely to be outright banned in London, the appeals process could be dragged out for years, with Transport for London angling to extract as many concessions as possible from the company.
The ride-hailing app Uber, whose backers include Goldman Sachs and BlackRock and which is valued at over $70 billion, has faced massive protests, bans and countless restrictions around the world as it challenges traditional operators and infuriates some unions.
In London, the firm has since made certain changes to its business model since losing its license, including the introduction of 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to the city’s police.
It has also shuffled its senior management and apologized for the blunders.
Even if its license is restored, Uber faces other serious hurdles in the U.K. and across Europe. Late last year, it lost an appeal in a U.K. case denying its right to classify drivers as independent contractors. It has also faced continued scrutiny for elaborate corporate structures that have allowed it to minimize taxes both in the U.S. and around the world.
Those embarrassments are now the burden of Dara Khosrowshahi, who replaced Kalanick as Uber’s CEO last year. Khrosrowshahi has made patching things up with London a major focus of his tenure so far, publicly pleading for compromise with regulators before taking initial steps to mollify them. So far, those steps have included creating more detailed driver profiles, building a 24-hour customer support hotline, and offering to share data with London city planners.
“I know we got things wrong and that we have more work to do. I promise Londoners we will keep listening and improving as Uber moves forward in a new direction,” UK General Manager Tom Elvidge, who will give evidence in court, said in May.
The appeal is due to be heard at Westminster Magistrates’ Court over three days and witnesses will also include Uber’s UK Chairman Laurel Powers-Freeling, UK Head of Cities Fred Jones and TfL’s Interim Director of Licensing Helen Chapman.
After its application for a five-year license was rejected last year by TfL, the company is now seeking an 18-month one to prove to the authorities that it has reformed.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot may take weeks before making her decision, which is likely to be subject to further appeal by the losing side, meaning the whole legal process could take years.
In the meantime, Uber can continue to operate in the city.
At stake for the US firm is one of its most crucial foreign markets. Of its roughly 50,000 drivers in Britain, around 40,000 are in London.
Since September’s TfL decision, the firm has also been stripped of its license by the southern coastal city of Brighton, in a decision which it is appealing, and the northern city of York.
It has however gained new licenses in Sheffield, Cambridge, Nottingham and Leicester.