Uber’s time is ticking in London

Uber has two more months in London.
Uber has two more months in London.
Image: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
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Uber wanted a long-term license to operate in London. Instead, it got two months.

Transport for London (TfL), the local taxi regulator, said today that it had issued Uber a two-month license “ahead of consideration of any potential further licensing application.” Uber’s current London license expires tomorrow, Sept. 25.

Uber’s London license has been a sensitive matter since September 2017, when TfL deemed the then-scandal-mired ride-hail company “not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license.” You might recall that in 2017 Uber faced multiple sexual harassment allegations and pushed out co-founder Travis Kalanick, among other drama. It contested the “fit and proper” decision at the time. In June 2018, after a lengthy appeals process (during which Uber continued to operate), a peace-making visit from CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, and several concessions by the company, Uber received a probationary 15-month license.

Which brings us to today. TfL said in a press release that its original decision not to license Uber “has led to the app-based firm improving its culture and governance.” TfL said it is seeking additional information—it didn’t provide details—from Uber to “inform any future licensing decision.” The decision only affects Uber’s rides service and not its other offerings, such as its Eats food delivery service or Jump electric bikes.

“TfL’s recognition of our improved culture and governance reflects the progress we have made in London,” Uber regional general manager Jamie Heywood said in a statement. “We will continue to work closely with TfL and provide any additional requested information.”

TfL’s verdict, while not an outright rejection, is surely a blow to Uber, which had sought a full operating license. It also comes as regulators around the world are feeling emboldened to curtail the ride-hail industry. Earlier this month, California passed a law that sets Uber up for a renewed legal fight around the employment status of its drivers, and makes it more likely they will be ruled employees instead of contractors. In New York City, Uber has had to comply with a pay floor for drivers, a cap on vehicles, and limits on driver idle time. (Uber recently sued over the “cruising” cap and started locking drivers out of its app when demand is low.)

Meanwhile, in Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan last week announced a plan to have Uber and Lyft drivers earn the local $16-an-hour minimum wage, plus benefits and expenses, by July 1, 2020.