Uber loses London license, Ola promises biometric verification in fight to take its place
Uber has lost its license to operate in its biggest European market, after Transport for London (TfL) said Uber drivers had compromised passenger safety by faking their identity, resulting in more than 14,000 suspicious trips conducted by 43 unauthorized drivers registered on the app, writes The Guardian.
“Despite addressing some of these issues, TfL does not have confidence that similar issues will not reoccur in the future, which has led it to conclude that the company is not fit and proper at this time,” the institution said in a statement.
“I know this decision may be unpopular with Uber users, but their safety is the paramount concern,” said London mayor Sadiq Khan. “Regulations are there to keep Londoners safe, and fully complying with TfL’s strict standards is essential if private hire operators want a license to operate in London.”
In September, TfL gave Uber a two-month preliminary extension on condition the company would look into passenger safety concerns and “patterns of failure.”
Issues related to Uber’s license renewal started in September 2017, when TfL rejected the request, yet the ridesharing company appealed the decision and got a 15-month extension. Although Uber has reportedly improved its system in the meantime, TfL said, there are still security glitches in the system that led to the 14,000 suspicious trips between 2018 and 2019. TfL claims it did not know about the situation until recently. Uber, on the other hand, claims to have informed the institution about the situation in May 2019, when it was also looking into deploying facial recognition technology to boost security.
Earlier this week, it was reported that Uber may have been pressured into collecting driver fingerprints or facial biometrics or risk losing its London license. James Farrar, of the IWGB union, called the measure “a hugely disproportionate and discriminatory response.”
Farrar is looking into ways to protect Uber drivers, after some 50,000 would be left unemployed following Uber’s license loss.
Andy McDonald, the Shadow Transport Secretary of the Labour Party wants Uber to play by the rules. “Innovative technologies have an important role to play in our transport networks, but endangering passengers, tax avoidance and a crisis of low-pay is not a price worth paying,” he said.
Uber is appealing TfL’s decision which means the service could keep operating until a final decision is made in court.
“TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence in London is extraordinary and wrong, and we will appeal,” said Jamie Heywood, Uber’s regional general manager. “On behalf of the 3.5 million riders and 45,000 licensed drivers who depend on Uber in London, we will continue to operate as normal and will do everything we can to work with TfL to resolve this situation.”
Uber’s chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi criticized the decision on Twitter, saying the company spent the last two years improving operations in London.
As Uber is fighting for survival in London, Indian ridesharing company Ola is trying to take its place. The service is already operational in Birmingham, Liverpool, Exeter, Reading, Bristol, Bath, Coventry, and Warwick, and promises to have an “industry-first driver facial recognition technology for continuous authentication” in addition to “storing digital copies of various documents including vehicle insurance certification, Ministry of Transport certificate, and driver’s license, to ensure that they are always up to date,” writes Business Insider.
Ola came to the UK market in 2018 after gaining popularity in New Zealand and Australia.