Uber will not be granted a new licence to operate in London after repeated safety failures, Transport for London (TfL) has said.
The regulator said the taxi app was not “fit and proper” as a licence holder, despite having made a number of positive changes to its operations.
Uber initially lost its licence in 2017 but was granted two extensions, the most recent of which expires on Monday.
The firm will appeal and can continue to operate during that process.
London is one of Uber’s top five markets globally and it has about 45,000 drivers in the city. Overall, there are 126,000 licensed private hire and black cabs in the capital.
If its appeal is unsuccessful, some think Uber drivers would move over to rival ride-sharing firms such as Bolt and Kapten.”There would be competition that would fill that void quite quickly,” Fiona Cincotta, a market analyst at City Index told the BBC.
Why won’t Uber get a new licence?
TfL said it had identified a “pattern of failures” in London that placed passenger safety at risk.
These included a change to Uber’s systems which allowed unauthorised drivers to upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts.
It meant there were at least 14,000 fraudulent trips in London in late 2018 and early 2019, TfL said.
The regulator also found dismissed or suspended drivers had been able to create Uber accounts and carry passengers. In one example, a driver was able to continue working for Uber, despite the fact his private hire licence had been revoked after he was cautioned for distributing indecent images of children.
Helen Chapman, director of licensing at TfL, said: “While we recognise Uber has made improvements, it is unacceptable that Uber has allowed passengers to get into minicabs with drivers who are potentially unlicensed and uninsured.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said: “I know this decision may be unpopular with Uber users, but their safety is the paramount concern. Regulations are there to keep Londoners safe.”
‘I feel safe using Uber’
Donna Stevens says her experiences of using Uber in London have “always been positive”.
In her job as a carer she often works late, so regularly uses the service. “The drivers are friendly, courteous and professional. I can’t afford to get a metered taxi.”
She says that if Uber were to go, she would probably have to go back to using public transport late at night, which does not make her feel safe.
However, another reader, Kay, says she would not be sad to see Uber go.
“I complained a couple of months ago about a driver who made me feel so uncomfortable I abandoned the ride and walked home in the dark at 11 o’clock at night instead of staying in his cab.”
She says Uber gave her a £5 credit but did not apologise. “How is it OK to employ drivers that make women feel unsafe?” she says.
Is this the end of Uber in London?
Uber lovers in London, fear not! The company’s cars will not suddenly disappear from the capital’s streets.
Uber is going to appeal against this decision so a magistrate will have to decide whether Uber is fit to hold a licence in London, or not.
A decision from a magistrates court could take weeks or months and unless the court decides otherwise, Uber will retain its licence during this period too.
When TfL decided not to renew Uber’s licence in 2017, the company addressed some of the issues raised by TfL back then and then a magistrate later granted Uber a new licence.
On the face of it TfL is standing tough against perceived failings by Uber. But in effect it is letting the courts decide, at a later date, whether Uber should have a licence, or not.
What does Uber say?
Uber said the decision was “extraordinary and wrong”. It said it had audited every driver in London over the past two months and strengthened its processes.
Boss Dara Khosrowshahi tweeted: “We understand we’re held to a high bar, as we should be. But this TfL decision is just wrong. Over the last 2 years we have fundamentally changed how we operate in London.”
According to Uber, 24% of its sales come from just five cities, including London. The others are Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and São Paulo in Brazil.
In a public filing, it said: “Any inability to operate in London, as well as the publicity concerning any such termination or non-renewal, would adversely affect our business, revenue, and operating results.
“We cannot predict whether the TfL decision, or future regulatory decisions or legislation in other jurisdictions, may embolden or encourage other authorities to take similar actions even where we are operating according to the terms of an existing licence or permit.”
What do others say?
Business lobby group the CBI said customers valued Uber, and encouraged both sides to find a resolution.
But the Unite union – which believes Uber has unfairly taken business from black cab drivers – welcomed the news.
“Uber’s DNA is about driving down standards and creating a race to the bottom which is not in the best interests of professional drivers or customers,” said Jim Kelly, chair of Unite’s London and Eastern cab section.
Where else has banned Uber?
Uber has faced pressure from regulators around the world over the way it treats its drivers, competition concerns, and fears about passenger safety.
The US firm pulled out of Denmark in 2017 because of new taxi laws that required drivers to have fare meters and seat sensors.
Bulgaria and Hungary both stripped Uber’s right to operate following pressure from local taxi unions.
And in May, the ride-hailing firm pulled its UberXL service in Turkey without saying why.
What happened in London in 2017?
TfL first declined to renew Uber’s licence in September 2017, again over safety concerns. Back then it cited Uber’s approach to carrying out background checks on drivers and reporting serious criminal offences.
Uber’s use of secret software, called “Greyball”, which could be used to block regulators from monitoring the app, was another factor, although Uber said it had never been used in the UK.
However, TfL granted Uber a 15-month licence extension – later extended by two months – conditional on it making improvements to its business.
TfL can offer licences of up to five years, but it has been more stringent of late.
In July, Indian ride-hailing company Ola got a 15-month agreement for its entry into the London market, while ViaVan got a three-year licence renewal.
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Having accessible car parking spaces available through the blue badge scheme is crucial for the day-to-day lives of disabled drivers.
But the BBC Inside Out programme has discovered one of the largest car parking firms in London is failing to provide the numbers of accessible bays recommended by government guidelines.
The operator, NCP, says it takes the issue of disabled parking seriously and is looking into it.
The full story will be featured on BBC Inside Out London on Monday at 19:30 GMT and afterwards on the BBC iPlayer.
Government minister Nick Hurd has announced that he will stand down at the next election, saying he wanted “a new challenge”.
In a statement, the minister of state for Northern Ireland said his decision was “personal not political”, adding that “much had changed” in his life.
Mr Hurd was first elected as MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner in 2005.
His decision follows Jo Johnson’s announcement that he was resigning as an MP and minister.
In a tweet, Mr Hurd confirmed he was “not resigning” and would continue as minister of state for Northern Ireland, minister for London and minister for Grenfell until the next election.
Speaking about his time in government, the 57-year-old said he had planned to continue “for as long as my constituents continued to elect me” but “much had changed”.
“Politics is now dominated by the ongoing division over Brexit. More happily, my private life has been changed profoundly by the birth of my two youngest children,” he said.
The Conservative MP added that he felt it was the time to “embrace a new challenge”.
In a quiet corner of London, one of India’s most venerated “founding fathers” continues to leave his mark.
The city’s affluent Primrose Hill neighbourhood has been home to generations of celebrities, from model Kate Moss to actor Daniel Craig.
But hundreds of visitors – including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – have flocked from around the world to one particular townhouse.
“Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, Indian Crusader of Social Justice lived here 1921-22,” proclaims a blue plaque outside the house.
Step through its doors, past a bust of Dr Ambedkar draped in garlands, and guests can see rooms reconstructed in his memory, with legal documents strewn across a dining room table. His glasses lie next to dog-eared books on the bedside table.
But there’s a problem: two neighbouring residents are opposed to the museum which, according to the local council, should not exist.
Next month, the fate of the house will be decided at a council hearing. Its owners could be forced to convert it back into a residential property and close its doors to visitors, diluting the legacy of a man whose influence still reverberates in India to this day.
Known as Ambedkar House, the building was bought by the government of Maharashtra, a state in western India, for more than £3m ($3.65m) in 2015.
Since its inauguration by Prime Minister Modi in 2015, it has operated as a free-to-visit attraction, dedicated to Dr Ambedkar, who is known as the architect of India’s constitution.
The home has attracted hundreds of guests, and three neighbours told the BBC that, during this time, visitors came and went without any disturbances. One resident, who lived across the road, said they did not even know it existed.
But in January 2018, Ambedkar House was reported to Camden Council for a planning breach, and the council found that the building did not have permission to operate as a museum.
In February 2018, the property’s owners retrospectively applied for permission to use the building as a museum. But in October 2018, the council rejected the claim, arguing that it would amount to an “unacceptable loss” of residential space.
Two residents have also complained to the council, in north-west London, about alleged disturbances caused by “coach loads” of visitors making “noise day and night”.
The government of Maharashtra has appealed the decision and a public inquiry is scheduled for 24 September.
Maharashtra’s government refused to comment on the case. But in a statement to the BBC, India’s High Commission – its embassy in the UK – said the property “holds a special significance for a huge section of Indians”. It said a planning application was submitted to Camden Council to convert the house into a memorial.
Dr Ambedkar – a Maharashtra native who died in 1956 – was a legal scholar, a passionate civil rights activist and the man tasked with drafting the country’s constitution after its independence in 1947. He was also India’s first law minister.
He was born a Dalit – the so-called “untouchables” of India’s caste system – and became the most important and revered political leader for the community, which has faced social and economic discrimination for centuries.
He fought for women’s rights, an end to caste discrimination, and reserving jobs in government and schools for disadvantaged groups. He is widely regarded as one of India’s greatest political leaders.
Before his his political career, Dr Ambedkar briefly lived in Primrose Hill, from 1921-22, while studying for a doctorate degree in economics at the London School of Economics.
That’s why, at the suggestion of the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations (FABO), the government of Maharashtra bought the property in 2015.
When the house came up for sale, former UK civil servant Santosh Dass, who lives in Hounslow, west London, convinced the state to buy it.
She told the BBC that the property was in a dilapidated state at the time, and said the renovation work had given the home, and the community, a new lease of life.
“We’ve done the neighbourhood a favour,” said Ms Dass, president of the FABO.
She said that discussions had been held about getting permission to turn the house into a formal museum, but organisers “underestimated how much time the whole thing would take”.
“We really want it to be a proper memorial so people can come and visit,” said Ms Dass. “Some people see it as a pilgrimage.”
About 50 people are estimated to visit Ambedkar House every week, including enthusiasts who travel from far away. Outside the building, one family told the BBC they had travelled from India to visit the home, which was top of their sight-seeing agenda in London.
C Gautam, a FABO committee member, was sanguine about the future of the property as a museum because “eminent people support us”.
A letter in support of the museum has been written to the borough council by Lord Richard Harries, a former bishop of Oxford. Some neighbouring residents, however, do not share his enthusiasm.
One local resident, who did not wish to be named, told the BBC: “It’s supposed to be residential, not a museum.”
The resident claimed that Ambedkar House “went ahead with the renovations without permission”, adding that “crowds of people come here now”.
During Camden’s public consultation, one resident also complained that visitors “arrive in coach loads taking photos and making noise”.
Bonnie Dobson, who lives on King Henry’s Road, told the BBC she considered the objections “puzzling and upsetting”. The 78-year-old Canadian folk singer said she had lived in Primrose Hill since 1969 and made a concerted effort to know her neighbours.
“To the best of my knowledge, no one has ever been disturbed by the fact that the house is now a little museum,” she said.
Ms Dobson said she liked the idea that tourists were coming to see Ambedkar House but disputed ever seeing “coach loads” of visitors. “If there were coaches coming up and down my road I’d know it,” she added.
Regardless of what residents think, it is Camden Council’s Planning Inspectorate that will have the final say.
If Ambedkar House lost the appeal, its owners “would be required to return the property to its lawful use as residential”, a council spokeswoman told the BBC.
In a report on the planning application, the council said the conversion of the building into a museum was, in theory, permissible. However, it was the loss of residential space that breached policy and led to the rejection, the council said.
“In terms of balancing the loss of residential floor space against the cultural benefits, there is nothing to suggest that an alternative site could not be found,” the council said.
Mr Gautam insisted that most neighbours had been supportive of Ambedkar House.
“They tell us that some of their relatives remember when Ambedkar lived there 100 years ago,” he told the BBC. “So they seem really happy that a unique thing is happening here.”
Inside the building, a quote from Dr Ambedkar is printed on one of the walls. “Democracy is essentially an attitude of reverence towards our fellow men,” the quote reads.
The council’s reverence for Ambedkar House, it seems, remains an open question.