Uber judge, regulator discuss one-year license with reviews

A London street map sits on a smartphone using the Uber Technologies Inc. ride-hailing service smartphone app in this arranged photograph in London, UK. (Bloomberg pic)

LONDON: A judge and regulator discussed limiting the length of Uber Technologies Inc.’s license to operate in London to approximately one year with regular independent reviews.

At the second day of a hearing on Uber’s ability to operate in the UK capital, Judge Emma Arbuthnot asked regulators about the suitability of a 12-month permit. Helen Chapman, Transport for London’s licensing director, replied that in addition to the time limit, the company should face regular audits.

Uber is appealing a decision by TfL in September to strip the company of its license after finding safety and corporate governance issues left it no longer “fit and proper” to operate in the city. Arbuthnot said she would issue a ruling at 5 pm local time.

While it’s become clear during the hearings that the regulator and Uber have largely narrowed their differences, Chapman expressed frustration at the process.

“We’ve had five years of a very difficult relationship where Uber has felt it hasn’t required regulation,” Helen Chapman told the judge Tuesday.

The September TfL decision sent shockwaves through the offices of businesses, city regulators, lawyers, employment unions, and media outlets worldwide. Dara Khosrowshahi was just weeks into his new role as Uber’s chief executive officer when, following the license revelations, he flew to London and started the process of undoing what many onlookers saw as years of poor behaviour on the company’s part.

The court hearing will wrap up early after Uber argued it had done enough to assuage TfL’s fears over safety, governance and its relationship with the regulator. TfL adopted a neutral stance, recognizing what the ride-sharing app had achieved since September but sounded a note of caution as to how fast a company’s culture can realistically change.

‘Pretty Stupid’
Uber’s lawyer asked for a 15-month permit, which would include the time it took to carry out and certify the audits. When Uber entered the London market the firm was granted a five-year license. He emphasized that the company is trying to turn the page on its previous bad behaviour.

The audit is “a fail-safe safeguard to ensure that there is not only independent internal scrutiny but also external scrutiny,” Thomas de la Mare said at the end of the hearing Tuesday. “We did some things that were in hindsight pretty stupid, to be frank.”

The transport agency had originally listed 25 concerns, most of which involved safety and regulatory issues. The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, which represents about 12,000 traditional black-cab drivers, and the GMB trade union, opposed the car service’s appeal on grounds that it’s worked to avoid regulations that cover other forms of transport and doesn’t offer job security.

“You’re not looking at an Uber in sheep’s clothing that has been presented these last few days,” Gerald Gouriet, a lawyer representing LTDA said. “It’s a defiant Uber.”