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Uber loses license to operate in London over public safety and security concerns

Uber has suffered a major blow to its operations in the United Kingdom, after Transport for London announced it will not be renewing the company's license to operate in the country's capital, with the transport authority citing Uber's policies and actions as reasons behind the decision.

The statement issued by Transport for London (TfL) on Friday notes Uber's current license to operate within London will expire on September 30. Under the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, Uber has 21 days to commence appeal proceedings, and will also be allowed to continue operating until all appeal processes are exhausted.

In explaining its decision, the regulator claims "Uber's approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implementations."

The list of issues includes how Uber obtains medical certificates for its employees, as well as how it conducts its Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks. TfL also complains about the way Uber reports serous criminal offenses that take place during journeys.

Uber's "approach to explaining the use of Greyball," controversial software created by Uber to keep regulatory officials from seeing the locations of its fleet of vehicles by providing a map of ghost cars, is also highlighted. TfL argues Greyball "could be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app, and prevent officials from undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties."

"TfL has concluded that Uber London Limited is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license," the regulator declares.

Uber was initially licensed as a private hire operator for London in 2012, with the license due for renewal this year.On May 26, TfL provided a four-month license to the firm to continue operations while the authority considered issuing a new five-year license, a decision that ultimately didn't go in Uber's favor.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan fully supports TfL's decision, advising "it would be wrong if TfL continued to license Uber if there is any way that this could pose a threat to Londoners' safety and security. Any operator of private hire services in London needs to play by the rules."

According to Uber London general manager Tom Elvidge, approximately 3.5 million people use the app in London, with the decision affecting over 40,000 licensed Uber drivers in the city. Uber intends to appeal the ruling.

"By wanting to ban our app from the capital TfL and the Mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice," said Elvidge in a statement received by TechCrunch. "If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport."

Elvidge denies that Greyball has ever been considered for use in the UK, and asserts that the company has "always followed TfL rules on reporting serious incidents, and have a dedicated team who work closely with the Metropolitan Police." Uber drivers are claimed to go through "the same enhanced DBS background checks as black cab drivers," while the app itself has allegedly enhanced ride safety, with "every trip tracked and recorded by GPS."

"This ban would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies who bring choice to consumers," Elvidge concludes.

Uber's existence in London has been troubled by complaints from numerous parties in recent months. According to the Evening Standard, members of parliament wrote to TfL earlier this month, urging it to strip Uber of its license as they "do not believe that Uber has shown itself to be a fit and proper operator," citing safety concerns.

In April, the Metropolitan Police wrote to TfL expressing concerns over the safety of passengers, including the risk of sexual assault. The letter from the Met Police's taxi and private hire team head Inspector Neil Billany cited one case of an Uber driver allowed to continue working despite allegations of sexual assault, with the driver committing another "more serious" attack in his car at a later time, reports the Guardian.

Billany's letter highlights Uber's slow reporting of criminal activity to authorities, advising "had Uber notified police after the first offense, it would be right to assume that the second would have been prevented."