Business Technology

British leaders react to Uber’s licence ban in London

12 min read

25 September 2017

Former deputy editor

On Friday 22 September, Transport for London (TfL) made a statement that, from 30 September, Uber would no longer be welcome in the capital.

Uber’s licence ban in London has made waves across industries, with TfL listing the many failings of the on-demand transport service, which led it to its decision to exile the American tech firm.

The statement declared: “Transport for London (TfL) has today (Friday 22 September) informed Uber London Limited that it will not be issued with a private hire operator licence after expiry of its current licence on 30 September.

“TfL has concluded that Uber London Limited is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence.

“TfL considers that Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”

Said issues surrounding Uber’s licence ban in London include the company approach to reporting criminal offences; acquisition of medical certificates and DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) checks; use of Greyball software, blocking law enforcement and regulators from full app access.

Uber’s licence ban in London may not be set in stone, however, as the company has a three-week window to turn around its fortunes and appeal to TfL.

We’ve rounded up a list of thoughts and feelings on Uber’s licence ban from business leaders across industries, many of whom point fingers at founder Travis Kalanick for the downfall of the company.

First to share their thoughts on Uber’s licence ban in London is John Colley of Warwick Business School, is a professor of practice in the Strategy & International Business Group, who said:

“Poor values ultimately bring leaders and companies down. Uber is already effectively banned from a number of countries including France, Spain and Belgium and now London.

“Until Uber gets this message then it will suffer lost trade as a result of its deteriorating reputation. Customers do have options in London with Addison Lee and the likes. In the short term expect plenty of positive PR but the prospects of the culture changing while Kalanick is still there are slim. 

“Uber faces litigation and investigation all round the world. Uber’s thrusting style, which many have labelled a macho and sexist culture, is predominantly a consequence of Kalanick’s approach to leadership.

“Kalanick remains on the board with two of his close supporters. It is his management team and the culture follows his personality. While he is still there the culture is unlikely to change.

“Entrepreneurs will never leave their ‘baby’ unless they are forced out by investors. Most will cling on despite damaging and even destroying their business.”

Colley added that Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has a tough task to change the company culture with Kalanick still possessing an influence on the firm, suggesting Uber’s licence ban in London could be just as challenging to reverse.

Maria Ludkin, legal director at drivers’ union GMB, said:

“This historic decision is a victory for GMB’s campaign to ensure drivers are given the rights they are entitled to – and that the public, drivers and passengers are kept safe.

“As a result of sustained pressure from drivers and the public, Uber has suffered yet another defeat – losing its license to operate in London.

“It’s about time the company faced up to the huge consequences of GMB’s landmark employment tribunal victory – and changed its ways.

“No company can be behave like it’s above the law, and that includes Uber. No doubt other major cities will be looking at this decision and considering Uber’s future on their own streets.”

Just some of the other UK cities Uber operates in include Cambridge, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Birmingham, Sheffield and Nottingham, though it serves over 600 globally.

“GMB will always challenge bogus self-employment and tackling exploitation. This decision vindicates our campaign and should be a wake-up call to a company that has for far too long been in denial,” added Ludkin.

Dan Ridsdale, analyst at Edison Investment Research said:

“The decision will be unpopular with many Londoners, but was made because Uber has played too fast and too loose in a number of areas, particularly with the use of Greyball, which was possibly the swing factor.

“We also believe that the ruling is symptomatic of the increasing concern of governments and government bodies over the ever growing power of ‘big tech’ companies and the perception that they are writing their own rule books to gain a competitive advantage.”

Seb Maley, Qdos Contractor CEO, said:

“That 40,000 of London’s gig economy workers are facing the prospect of being unable to drive for Uber so soon is obviously concerning. The ‘gig economy’ gives people more freedom and flexibility to work how and when they want, albeit recently coming under criticism for the lack of protection it offers workers.

“Following last year’s employment tribunal case, Uber drivers sit somewhere between self-employment and employment, and now receive holiday pay, paid rest breaks and the national minimum wage.

“But we must be clear that TfL’s ruling does not mean that potentially 40,000 independent contractors are now facing the prospect of being without work. It’s important we understand the difference between ‘gig economy’ workers and self-employed independent contractors, who in many cases do not need nor want similar rights to employees.”

Steve Mosser, CEO of Sensee, said:

“We welcome the proposed ban by Transport for London. TFL was unsatisfied with Uber’s approach to public safety in how drivers were selected and vetted, but it’s important not to forget reported treatment of Uber drivers and the damaging impact of unregulated space on gig economy workers’ rights. 

“It’s deeply unfortunate that the livelihood for many may be at risk right now but we also need to understand the importance of this ‘nod’ to sustainable work and working with dignity. Consumer and worker safety is paramount, and unfortunately, Uber practices have demonstrated carelessness on both these fronts.

“While many drivers may feel the axing of Uber’s licence is brutal and their livelihood is at stake, this is one more step in ensuring businesses offer their workforce fair working conditions and that vulnerable members of the public and workforce – carers, single parents with young children, people with disabilities, among others – are protected.

James Bickford, Reputation Institute MD, said:

“It is no surprise to hear the news of Uber losing its licence to operate in London – amidst a myriad of safety issues and black cab lobbying, the car hailing company stood in a vulnerable position.

“From day one, Uber has struggled with reputational difficulties – often ignored – as a result of a lack of appropriate governance and a weak CSR structure.

“Reputation Institute data has identified that perceptions of the company are weak, specifically in the areas of workplace and governance. In addition, the UK public would be unlikely to give Uber the benefit of doubt and they would not trust them to do the right thing.

“The innovative service Uber offers is one that Londoners have come to rely on, however an onslaught of cases highlighting a lack of concern for customer welfare has now caught up with them.”

Bickford added that an appeal to turn around Uber’s licence ban in London, the crisis can’t be ignored and must be addressed head on.

Ben Boswell, EMEA director at World Wide Technology, said:

“The complexity involved in many smart city projects, some of them using vast amounts of data and impacting thousands of lives, means that technology providers must be held to high standards.

“What we’ve seen with Uber is the unravelling of a company that is based on a toxic culture. The potential that technology holds for the good of our cities is tremendous: as an industry we need to do more to tackle cultural issues in corporate culture so that consumers’ access to innovation is not restricted like this again.”

Chris McCullough, CEO and co-founder, Rotageek, said:

“TfL’s decision to revoke Uber’s licence will create a lot of questions for the startup community. London is renowned as an entrepreneurial hub that is open to new technologies.

“During the upcoming legal appeal the government must strike a careful balance between regulation and innovation. If TfL has concerns over public safety it’s right to work with a company to address these, but a heavy-handed approach could deter other tech leaders from expanding into the city.

“If the final decision is taken to ban Uber, the government will need to work extremely closely with aspiring startups and enterprises to assure future innovation isn’t curbed.”

Not wanting to miss out on the opportunity to dig its rival, Gett’s UK MD, Matteo de Renzi, said this about Uber’s London licence ban in London:

“Any Londoner looking for a safe and secure way to get around can trust Gett to do that at the touch of a button. Gett has the highest rated Black cab drivers in town; all trained to the highest standards which is exactly what Londoners deserve.”

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