Uber gets back London license after winning court challenge

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Photo credit FILE - This Wednesday, June 21, 2017, file photo shows the building that houses the headquarters of Uber, in San Francisco. Uber can keep operating in London after the ride-hailing company won a court appeal on Monday Sept. 28, 2020, against the refusal by transit regulators to renew its license. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)
By The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Uber can keep operating in London after it won its appeal of a decision by the British capital's transit regulator not to renew its license.

The San Francisco-based ride-hailing company had challenged Transport for London’s decision in late 2019 not to renew its operating license over safety concerns involving imposter drivers.

Deputy Chief Magistrate Tanweer Ikram said Monday he found Uber to be “fit and proper" and granted the company an 18-month license with conditions.

It's a crucial legal victory in a lucrative European market as the company struggles to turn a profit. Uber posted a $1.8 billion loss in the latest quarter because millions of people stayed home amid the pandemic. That has raised doubts that it can meet its goal of becoming profitable by 2021. The company faces a slew of other regulatory challenges around the globe. In Britain, it's also involved in a separate case at the Supreme Court over whether drivers should be considered workers with rights, in a ruling that could shake up the country's gig economy.

Uber’s license has been revoked twice since 2017 but the company has been able to continue operating while it appealed. The company's 45,000 drivers provide millions of trips each month in London.

In the latest case, Transport for London rejected Uber’s application in November 2019 for a new license, citing several breaches that placed passengers at risk. The regulator found that a change Uber made to its systems allowed unauthorized drivers to upload their photos to other driver accounts and carry out at least 14,000 uninsured rides.

The magistrate said he took into account Uber's efforts to improve oversight and tighten up identity checks. He said he didn't find any evidence of a “cover up” of the driver photo fraud problem.

"Uber doesn't have a perfect record but it has an improving picture," Ikram said. “I am satisfied that they are doing what a reasonable business in their sector could be expected to do, perhaps even more.”

Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager Northern and Eastern Europe, said the decision is a “recognition of Uber’s commitment to safety” and the company will “continue to work constructively” with Transport for London.

“There is nothing more important than the safety of the people who use the Uber app as we work together to keep London moving," he said.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said that while Uber has made improvements to get its license back, the company will still be closely scrutinized.

“I can assure Londoners that TfL will continue to closely monitor Uber and will not hesitate to take swift action should they fail to meet the strict standards required to protect passengers," Khan said.