If you were planning on using Uber in London, do it quick — the troubled ride-sharing company just lost its license to operate in the city. This week, the regulatory group Transport for London announced it wouldn't renew Uber's license to operate for a number of reasons, including labor concerns, app trickery, and accusations of jeopardizing public safety.
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People joke about the British as masters of understatement, which makes the finding that Uber is "not fit and proper" a real rip on the service. London has about 40,000 Uber drivers, with 3.5 million customers using the app at least four times a year. After Sept. 30, they all may be out of luck.
Uber has had a rough year, in large part because of accusations of rampant sexism and abuse by engineers at its headquarters. CEO Travis Kalanick was forced to step down this summer, in hopes that a less controversial leader could right the company's image. All this comes on top of concerns that Uber's business model is based on scabbing, deliberately undercutting blue-collar taxi drivers. London's ancient black-cab drivers, who have been organized in the city since 1634, have seen huge losses since Uber came to London ahead of the 2012 Olympics. That many Uber drivers are immigrants has fueled further tensions, as supporters decry anti-Uber campaigning as racist.
One noteworthy reason Transport for London cut off Uber comes down to deception. Regulators allege that Uber uses a software technique in its app called "greyballing," which identifies officials in cities where Uber is banned and blocks them from using the service, to avoid detection. Uber denies the charges, and has said it will challenge the decision in court.
This showdown has been coming for a while. Uber was granted a five-year license to operate in London, which expired earlier this year. Regulators offered a four-month extension as they investigated a number of complaints about the ride-share operator. Still, the decision not to renew could cause headaches for tourists and residents alike; London, already one of the most expensive cities in the world, also has the world's most expensive public transit system.