It’s official, Uber has lost its license to operate in London.
I have to be honest, the news made me slightly stressed and I fully supported the some-what irrational cries of ‘what will we do now?’ that echoed around the office. Uber has truly transformed how people all over the world travel. The simplicity from the start of your journey to the finish has taken over urban transport as we know it. I have been following the company for quite some time and have been planning a post around the polarising unicorn for a while due to its many internal scandals (Unicorn is the term given to a start-up that is valued at over $1 billion).
Darling Hannah, what are these scandals you speak of? Uber has had quite a difficult time recently. Aside from the assault cases, lack of appropriate background checks on drivers, wittingly leasing 1,000 recalled cars and an on-going war with London’s Black Taxi drivers, Uber has a mountain of internal issues that it needs to resolve.
The car-hailing app is currently being sued by self-driving car company, Waymo, which is owned by Google’s parent company Alphabet. Waymo has accused Uber of stealing its intellectual property, trade secrets and patents. Anthony Levandowski is the man in the middle of all of this! Levandowski used to work for Waymo and left to found his own self-driving automobile company, Otto, which Uber swiftly bought and then proceeded to position Levandowski as the head of Uber’s self-driving cars research department. What’s more, in the weeks leading up to Levandowski’s departure from Waymo, 14,000 files were downloaded from Waymo to an external hard drive by him and during questioning by Alphabet’s lawyers he pleaded the 5th amendment 600 times in a matter of hours. (The 5th amendment protects people from incriminating themselves) I could go on about the court case but we might be here forever…If you want to know more about driverless cars click here.
Another huge issue Uber has to contend with is the crazy rate at which the company’s top level executives have been leaving over the past year. See below for just some of the leavers (the list would have been extremely long!):
February: Amit Singhal – Senior Vice President of Engineering
March: Ed Baker, Vice President of Product and Growth
March: Gary Marcus, Head of Uber’s Artificial Intelligence Lab
March: Jeff Jones, President
April: Rachel Whetstone, Senior Vice President of Global Policy and Communications
June: Eric Alexander, Vice President of Uber in Asia
June: Travis Kalanick, CEO
What I think is most disturbing about some of the leavers is that they left due to being caught up in lawsuits and scandals ranging from obtaining and sharing a rape victim’s medical records, allegedly taking bribes and sexual harassment claims amongst many other suits.
Why has Uber lost its license? TfL rejected Uber’s license renewal as it was deemed ‘not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license’. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan backed the decision adding;
‘It would be wrong if TfL continued to license Uber if there is any way that this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety and security.’
In cities across the globe, Uber faces backlash over its background checks on its drivers. In London, Uber does not meet the safety standards that have been lawfully set out. Therefore, the company is willingly putting millions of people in potentially very dangerous situations. In addition to this, the Metropolitan Police have accused the fast growing app of not alerting others to a number of serious crimes, including sexual assault and the use of pepper spray during an angry exchange between drivers. London’s police force has also stated that Uber has previously not alerted them in enough time to prosecute those who have allegedly broken the law. Read more here. Uber is also often accused of empty promises to its drivers regarding pay and blurring the lines of its employees rights.
So, why are people angry at TfL’s rejection? Uber may have many internal scandals but that does not mean every single employee is terrible! Come on now…In London alone, Uber employs 40,000 drivers and provides millions of people with a simple alternative transport method. Having had many conversations with Uber drivers, the flexibility and extra source of income (for some) has provided them with greater freedoms. Also, many argue that taking an Uber is an extremely safe mode of transport as customers know who their driver is, what they look like and can rate them afterwards in addition to GPS tracking the whole journey. Ordering an Uber is widely seen as safer than taking the night tube or a night bus in the city.
What can be done to save it? A petition called ‘Save Your Uber’ has been created and at the time of writing it has 793,206 signatures. The company has also stated it will appeal the recent decision and work to get its license in the capital back. Uber CEO, Dara Khosrowshahi has apologised and said the company understood that it ‘must change’. Sadiq Khan has welcomed this step in the right direction. It is important t remember that there are other ride-hailing apps such as MyTaxi, Kabbee and Halo that all operate in similar ways to Uber but adhere to the law.
I find myself ordering Uber’s at least three times a week, yes get over it! I was upset by the decision made by Khan and TfL but I do understand why they rejected the renewal of its license. A company that has grown to a gargantuan size and employs thousands of people all over the world will have its ups and downs. However, in my opinion the safety of its passengers and drivers is paramount. BBC Technology Correspondent, Rory Cellan-Jones explains in his piece about the troubled company ‘its tactic has often been to arrive in a city, break a few rules, and then apologise when it’s rapped over the knuckles’. Unfortunately for Uber, London has run out of patience.