Uber will be granted a new licence to operate in London after a judge ruled the firm was “fit and proper” to work in the capital.
The ride-hailing company was denied a licence by Transport for London in November 2019, citing breaches which compromised passenger safety and issues with transparency.
On Monday, deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram ruled Uber is now suitable to hold an operator licence “despite historical failings” after hearing three days of arguments at Westminster Magistrates’ Court.
The judge said he took Uber’s “track-record of regulation breaches” into account but said the company had made efforts to address failings and had improved standards.
He will now hear applications on the length of the new licence as well as what conditions should be imposed.
Tim Ward QC, for Uber London Ltd, previously said improvements had been made, including in the company’s governance and document review systems.
He had also told the court TfL’s decision to not renew Uber’s licence was tipped by a critical report on their technical systems, which have since been assessed as suitable.
TfL first refused to renew the company’s licence in September 2017, but the firm was handed a 15-month licence by a judge in June 2018 after it took the case to court.
It was then given a further two-month licence in September 2019, after which TfL rejected Uber’s application for a new licence, citing “several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk”.
Judge Ikram was not asked to rule on whether TfL’s decision was correct, but whether Uber was suitable now for the licence.
Many of the arguments heard over three days in court focused on a vulnerability in Uber’s systems which allowed unauthorised people to upload their photographs to legitimate driver accounts, enabling them to pick up passengers.
This fraud involved 24 drivers exploiting a flaw with the app’s GPS to share their accounts with 20 others, leading to 14,788 unauthorised rides.
Marie Demetriou QC, representing TfL, said there had been a “catalogue of errors” in Uber’s management of the issue, including how they had raised it with TfL.
This was accepted as inadequate by Uber’s regional general manager for Northern and Eastern Europe, Jamie Heywood.
He said: “It was not what we would do now. It was inadequate, we could have done better.”
Responding to the judgment, a Transport for London spokesperson said: “We note the court has found that Uber is now fit and proper to hold a private hire operator’s licence in London.
“As a result of our decision in November last year Uber has implemented a number of changes to improve passenger safety and address the issues we identified.
“This 18-month licence with a number of conditions allows us to closely monitor Uber’s adherence to the regulations and to swiftly take action if they fail to meet the required standards.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan added: “Public safety is paramount, so TfL was absolutely right not to renew Uber’s licence last November after identifying failures that directly put passengers in danger.
“I am pleased that Uber have admitted that their response to very real concerns about passenger safety was inadequate, and since then Uber has made improvements.
“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.”
The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association accused Uber of a “cover-up” over the scale of the problem, which was “emphatically” denied.
Ms Demetriou said TfL could not conclude there was a cover-up of the information but said the regulator was “deeply unhappy” about communication with Uber.
Mr Ward said Uber had implemented “rigorous” structural changes since the previous appeals, telling the court the company has moved on “considerably”.
He later argued that denying the company a licence would have a “profound effect” on groups at risk of street harassment such as women and ethnic minorities, as well as disabled people.
“London is a safer place with Uber in the market than without it,” Mr Ward said.
He also said Uber launched “an assault on the problem of manual error” which led to the belated dismissal of three drivers accused of sexual misconduct.