Tech

Uber wins back license to operate in London

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LONDON — Uber was granted a license to operate in London on Tuesday after a British judge ruled that the ride-booking service met the legal requirements to offer its digital services in the countrys capital.

The decision marks a significant win for Uber, which had lost its license to operate in London last year when the local transport authority revoked its permissions because officials said the company failed to meet its so-called “fit and proper” test to hold a transportation license.

Since that decision — a major blow for the company as London remains one of its most important markets globally — the ride-booking service acknowledged that it failed to meet the citys requirements and took steps to rectify what local authorities deemed was unacceptable behavior.

“Were open to doing business with cities in the way in which cities want to do business,” Dara Khosrowshahi, Ubers CEO, told POLITICO last month. “Were not going to be absolutist in our approach; we will adjust on a local basis.”

In a bid to woo London authorities, Uber agreed that its license should have been revoked, although the company has continued to operate in the city while it appealed the decision. More than 3 million Londoners use the service on a regular basis, and there are approximately 45,000 drivers registered on Ubers platform, according to the company.

Ubers victory in London, though, was not universal.

The allegations against Uber included claims that more than 1,000 of the companys drivers in London that had been accused of serious crimes, including dangerous driving and sexual assaults. The ride-booking service has faced similar criticisms across its global empire, including a driver in India allegedly raping a passenger. It also has faced a string of other regulatory mistakes, including a massive data breach and claims that it tried to withhold some of its activities from regulators.

Ubers victory in London, though, was not universal. As part of the conditions, Judge Emma Arbuthnot gave the company a 15-month probationary license, instead of the 18-month authority that it had been asking for.

“It is now a fit and proper person under the law. I grant a license,” the judge said Tuesday.

By winning a reprieve in London, Uber is likely to push further into Europe, where it similarly has faced a number of regulatory setbacks, including a ruling by the regions highest court that it is a transport, not digital, company. That decision limited the companys efforts to expand its platform across the Continent from traditional taxi services to those offered by average drivers on its platform.

Cities across Spain, France and Germany also have balked at the companys previous tactics, which have often involved Uber expanding into new territories without discussing potential issues with local authorities. Those tactics, according to company executives and several city authorities, have changed since Khosrowshahi became Ubers chief executive last year.

And the tech boss has made several trips, notably to France and Germany, to win back support from national and local officials.

“If were going to be in Europe, we need to be in Germany, Spain and, hopefully, Italy as well,” Khosrowshahi said. “If you want to have a voice in the debate, you first have to engage. And for us, we want to engage in Germany. It wont be perfect, but it will be better.”

Not everyone welcomed Ubers re-emergence in London.

The citys taxi associations have fought a yearslong battle to keep the company at bay in the British capital, including several strikes across the city in protest of what they see as Ubers illegal tactics.

These groups — known worldwide for their iconic black cabs — are now left with few avenues to upend Ubers reinstatement, though several have vowed to fight on, highlighting potential new U.K. legislation to clamp down on the ride-booking services worst offenses.

Yet Michael, a five-year taxi driver who declined to give his surname as he left the London court on Tuesday, summed up the resignation felt among many of the taxi associations.

“Weve been fighting them for years, but they keep being given a pass,” he told POLITICO, shrugging his shoulders in defeat. “How many times does Uber have to break the law before someone does something about it?”

UPDATED: This article was updated with reaction from a taxi driver.

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