LONDON: Uber won a legal bid on Tuesday to restore its operating license in London after a judge overturned an earlier decision and granted the ride-hailing app a 15-month permit.
The capital’s transport authority stripped the American firm of its license last September amid safety concerns, but Uber appealed the decision and was allowed to continue operating while the case was heard.
According to Quartz, Uber has managed to secure a probationary license that will extend for over a year after it agreed to pay “costs” of the TfL investigation amounting to hundreds of thousands of pounds as well as agree to a six month auditing period
A magistrates’ court in London found the ride-hailing company “fit and proper” to receive a probationary 15-month license, instead of the five-year license it initially applied for. The court granted the license after Uber agreed to be audited, and to pay £425,500 in costs to Transport for London (TfL), the local transit authority.
Tom Elvidge, Uber’s general manager for the UK, said the company was pleased with the decision. “We will continue to work with TfL to address their concerns and earn their trust, while providing the best possible service for our customers,” he said in a statement.
However, the judge agreed with transport officials’ decision to block the renewal last year, noting “a rather gung-ho attitude of those running the business in the very recent past”.
She added: “The attitude of the previous managers… appeared to me on the evidence to be that of growing the business come what may.”
But Arbuthnot said she had considered “the new governance arrangements” put in place and was persuaded that a shorter 15-month license term would allow Transport for London (TfL), the authority, to judge Uber’s changes.
Tom Elvidge, General Manager of Uber in the UK, welcomed the decision.
“We will continue to work with TfL to address their concerns and earn their trust while providing the best possible service for our customers,” he said in a statement.
The company has about 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million customers in the British capital.
TfL’s concerns included how it obtained drivers’ medical certificates and how criminal record checks were carried out.
A judge kicked the ride-hailing giant out of the country last fall, citing concerns about the safety related to background checks of the company’s drivers and crime reporting.
In a statement posted on Twitter after the court’s ruling, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said he “fully supported” the court’s decision to ban Uber last year, but appeared to signal internal changes at Uber made the company worthy of another chance to operate in London.
“As Mayor, I’m working to ensure that London continues to be at the forefront of innovation and a natural home for new and exciting companies,” Khan said in a statement posted on Twitter. “But no matter how powerful and how big you are, you must play by the rules.”
In court Uber argued it had instituted “wholesale change” to these and other areas.
Measures adopted include the appointment of new non-executive directors, limits to driver hours, a new telephone support line, and better insurance policies, it said.
“We accept TfL’s decision in September was the right decision on the evidence at the time,” Uber’s lawyer Tom de la Mare told the judge.
“That acceptance has led to a wholesale change in the way we conduct our business.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the judge had “vindicated” his officials’ initial decision and Uber was now “on probation”.
“After years of operating poorly in London, Uber has now accepted that TfL´s action in refusing to renew their license was totally justified.
“Their 15-month license has a clear set of conditions that TfL will thoroughly monitor and enforce.”
Consumer watchdog SumOfUs greeted the u-turn with dismay.
“Uber’s new directors threw its old bosses under the bus today and persuaded a judge that the gig economy giant has turned a corner for good,” said its campaigner Eoin Dubsky.
“Uber is still a shady corporation and shouldn’t have been granted a new license until it can show drivers are treated fairly.”
Steve McNamara, general secretary of Licensed Taxi Drivers´ Association, echoed the criticism.
“Cab drivers are going to be hearing this in absolute disbelief,” he told AFP outside the court, calling the ruling “a travesty”.
“We’ve had two days of evidence, Uber has admitted an absolute catalog of errors,” he added.
“The magistrate has said ‘be good boys, don’t do it again and I’ll give you a license’.”
Though Uber’s deal here will keep it operating in the lucrative London market, the company’s aggressive overseas expansion—which critics have long said essentially relied on bending or breaking local taxi laws—seems to have recently hit a wall in the face of both competition and a growing enemies’ list.
In a separate case, Uber is also appealing against an employment court ruling that would give its drivers the right to paid holidays and the national minimum wage.
The London license has been one of a number of headaches for Uber and its new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over last August after founder Travis Kalanick was ousted following a series of scandals.
Its self-driving car programme in the United States suffered a blow with a deadly accident in March.
Uber also faces being banned in Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that the app was “finished”, following an intense lobbying campaign from Istanbul taxi drivers.