Uber Technologies Inc avoided a ban in London on Tuesday after the taxi-hailing app’s new management made changes to ease strained relations with city authorities, but its new licence put it on probation in its largest European market.
Uber overhauled its policies and personnel in Britain after Transport for London (TfL) refused to renew its licence in September for failings in its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.
The ruling has been a test of Uber’s new management at board level, with Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took charge the month before TfL’s decision, pledging to “make things right” in London.
Judge Emma Arbuthnot said that changes made by its London subsidiary in light of the ruling were sufficient for Uber to be considered “fit and proper” to operate as she granted a 15-month “probationary” licence.
The licence is much shorter than the five-year licence it was denied in September, and London Mayor Sadiq Khan was clear that the court ruling was no carte blanche for Uber in London.
“I believe everyone must play by the same rules, no matter how big or powerful they are,” he said in a statement.
“Uber has been put on probation – their 15 month licence has a clear set of conditions that TfL will thoroughly monitor and enforce.”
The licence conditions for Uber London Limited (ULL) include giving TFL notice of what Uber is doing in areas that may be a cause of concern, reporting safety related complaints and having an independent assurance audit report every six months.
ULL must also be notified by its parent firm of any matters that could be relevant to its obligations as an operator.
With backers including Goldman Sachs and BlackRock and valued at more than $70 billion, Uber has faced protests, bans and restrictions around the world as it challenges traditional taxi operators, angering some unions.
Uber, which has about 45,000 drivers in London, introduced several new initiatives in response to the ruling, including 24/7 telephone support and the proactive reporting of serious incidents to police. It has also changed senior management in Britain, its biggest European market.
Uber, which at the court hearing accepted that TfL’s original decision was right and that a shorter licence was appropriate, welcomed the ruling.
“We are pleased with today’s decision. We will continue to work with TfL to address their concerns and earn their trust,” Tom Elvidge, General Manager of Uber in the UK, said in a statement.
Bruce Schaller, a transportation consultant based in New York and the former deputy commission for traffic and planning for New York City, said that Uber should’ve done more to work with authorities earlier.
“It’s an occasion for one-handed applause because this should have happened all along,” he said, adding that it was understandable that TfL wanted to keep Uber on a short leash.
Uber’s presence in London has angered the drivers of the city’s iconic “black cabs”, who have previously blocked London’s streets in protest at the app.
The Licensed Taxi Driver’s Association (LTDA), whose lawyer in court warned about the prospect of an “Uber in sheep’s clothing”, said it was disappointed with the decision.
“Uber’s blatant disregard for TfL’s regulations and public safety was laid before the Court,” said Steve McNamara, General Secretary of the LTDA.
“The justice system has failed Londoners today and let an aggressive multinational corporation win.”
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