Transport for London’s decision not to re-licence Uber has, predictably, provoked a lot of noise from the firm’s supporters and detractors, but both groups probably need to calm down.
Some of those outraged TfL has done its job seem to be losing sight of the fact that the firm can continue to operate until it’s exhausted the appeals procedure and, as we know Uber’s going to ensure it uses every option open to it, that means those wanting to keep using its services will be able to do so for months to come.
On the other side of the debate, some gleeful Labour types might want to dial their hero worship of Sadiq Khan down a few notches and stop crediting him with a decision which he didn’t take and legally cannot take.
Who is and isn’t granted a licence isn’t a job for TfL’s political leadership – it’s a statutory function which is carried out in compliance with a strict legal framework, not because of politics or the numbers of signatures on petitions. Suggesting otherwise risks undermining today’s decision when the courts come to decide whether or not to uphold it.
Lost in all the noise is a fact which I’d expect Uber to raise in their legal challenge and which has been ignored by those suggesting TfL’s choice was simply between allowing Uber to continue as it was and blocking it from operating at all.
The legislation under which TfL regulates mini cab operators gives it the power to impose conditions on licence holders:
A London PHV operator’s licence shall be granted subject to such conditions as may be prescribed and such other conditions as the [F1licensing authority] may think fit.
So, in theory at least, it could have offered Uber a new permit with conditions aimed at addressing any perceived shortcomings. TfL’s statement makes no mention of whether it considered doing this or whether it discussed this option with Uber.
If it didn’t, the company may well try and argue that this would have been a more rational and proportionate approach than an outright ban. And if it considered and then rejected this approach, TfL will need to hope its reasoning stands up to outside scrutiny.
Either way, those rushing to celebrate or mourn Uber’s “demise” in London are being severely premature. This saga still has a long way to run.