A judge has ruled Uber is ‘fit and proper’ to run its ride-hailing service in London and will grant a new licence.
Uber was famously denied a licence to run its service in the capital by Transport for London (TfL) in November 2019.
TfL cited breaches which compromised passenger safety and issues with transparency.
On Monday (Sept 28), deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram ruled Uber can now hold an operator licence ‘despite historical failings’.
Judge Ikram heard three days of arguments at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
In his judgement, Judge Ikram said: ‘Despite their historical failings, I find them, now, to be a fit and proper person to hold a London (Private Hire Vehicle) operator’s licence.
‘Uber has presented no real challenge to the facts as presented by TfL though has challenged the suggestion that breaches were not taken seriously and any suggestion of bad faith on their part.
‘Their approach has really been to explain why events took place as they did.’
Judge Ikram said Uber had tightened up its review process surrounding document and insurance fraud – issues that were raised during the hearings.
He continued: ‘On the evidence, Uber now seem to be at the forefront of tackling an industry wide challenge.’
He will now hear applications on the length of the new licence as well as what conditions should be imposed.
The judge said he took Uber’s ‘track-record of regulation breaches’ into account but said the company had made efforts to address failings and had improved standards.
The judge added: ‘Uber does not have a perfect record but it has been an improving picture.
‘The test as to whether Uber are a “fit and proper person” does not require perfection.
‘I am satisfied that they are doing what a reasonable business in their sector could be expected to do, perhaps even more.’
TfL first refused to renew the company’s licence in September 2017, but the firm was handed a 15-month licence by a judge in June 2018 after it took the case to court.
It was then given a further two-month licence in September 2019, after which TfL rejected Uber’s application for a new licence, citing ‘several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk’.
Judge Ikram was not asked to rule on whether TfL’s decision was correct, but whether Uber was suitable now for the licence.
The judge heard arguments concerning a vulnerability in Uber’s systems which allowed unauthorised people to upload their photographs to legitimate driver accounts, enabling them to pick up passengers.
Our statement on today's appalling decision by Westminster Magistrates Court to grant Uber a licence to operate in London. Uber too big to regulate, but too big to fail: pic.twitter.com/71CdLd99LR
— The LTDA (@TheLTDA) September 28, 2020
This fraud involved 24 drivers exploiting a flaw with the app’s GPS to share their accounts with 20 others, leading to 14,788 unauthorised rides.
Marie Demetriou QC, representing TfL, said there had been a ‘catalogue of errors’ in Uber’s management of the issue, including how they had raised it with TfL.
This was accepted as inadequate by Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood.
He said: ‘It was not what we would do now. It was inadequate, we could have done better.’
The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) accused Uber of a ‘cover-up’ over the scale of the problem, which was ’emphatically’ denied.
The LTDA said the decision was a ‘disaster for London’.
It said: ‘Sadly, it seems that Uber is too big to regulate effectively, but too big to fail.’
It said Uber had ‘managed to pull the wool over the eyes of the court’, adding: ‘(Judge Ikram) is playing Russian roulette with the safety of Londoners and I fear it’s only a matter of time until the next incident.’
Demetriou said TfL could not conclude there was a cover-up of the information.
Ward said Uber had implemented ‘rigorous’ structural changes since the previous appeals, telling the court the company has moved on ‘considerably’.
He later argued that denying the company a licence would have a ‘profound effect’ on groups at risk of street harassment such as women and ethnic minorities, as well as disabled people.
‘London is a safer place with Uber in the market than without it,’ he said.