Decision not to renew our London licence was correct, Uber manager tells court

Uber can operate as normal during the appeal process (Laura Dale/PA) Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Uber has admitted the decision not to renew its licence in London over safety concerns was correct, as the taxi-hailing app appealed to get it restored.

The firm conceded a string of failings on Monday, agreeing with Transport for London’s (TfL) decision in September, but said the operating licence should be renewed as it has made “wholesale” reforms.

Uber’s general manager in the UK, Tom Elvidge, told Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday rapid change had followed the concerns for public safety and security.

“I agree that Uber London Limited (ULL) and Uber generally was undergoing a period of significant change and, in light of what was available to TfL given the mistakes that ULL made, I absolutely accept that decision in September,” he said.

He told the court the move “certainly accelerated” changes, which include telling the regulator when drivers get convictions or are removed from the app for poor conduct.

Mr Elvidge said that among the failings before he took charge were Uber’s lack of clarity over whether the company or drivers accepted passengers, which has implications for workers’ rights.

He also said Greyball software, which can be used to skirt around regulations, was used in a way that was “fundamentally wrong” outside the UK.

Online eye tests that relied on the honesty of would-be drivers were also “not a good idea”, he added.

Martin Chamberlain QC, representing TfL, accused Uber of lacking transparency and of “drip feeding incriminating information to its regulator only when it’s squeezed out”.

Mr Elvidge replied: “I think it’s certainly one of the interpretations.

“This was not good enough, it should’ve made multiple responses to further probing and further questioning to get to the ultimate response and that was wrong – that was inadequate.”

Tom de la Mare QC, representing Uber, said the firm had taken the “unusual” stance of not opposing TfL’s reasons for not renewing the licence.

He instead argued “wholesale change” at Uber and a “clean break” in personnel in its London headquarters mean the court should approve a new one.

He said TfL’s last three inspections showed a “perfect record”, while three non-executive board members are now in place to ensure “total compliance to the letter and spirit” of regulatory obligations.

Other measures include proactively reporting serious incidents to the Metropolitan Police and changing the app so users are told Uber has accepted their booking and their driver is TfL-licensed.

Chief Magistrate Emma Arbuthnot indicated an 18-month provisional licence Uber is requesting would be “too long” for her to grant.

Uber can operate as normal during the appeal process, which could continue in higher courts if either party is not satisfied with the Westminster result.

The appeal continues on Tuesday, when the judge is expected to give her ruling over whether Uber is “fit and proper” to hold a licence in the capital now, rather than when TfL made the decision.