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Technologists debate London’s Uber ban


Travellers in London have expressed outrage following Transport for London’s ban on private hire operator Uber, with over 800,000 people having now signed a petition urging Mayor Sadiq Khan to overturn the decision. But transport technology experts are divided on whether the move represents a positive or negative step.

It was announced last week that Uber would not be issued with a new operating licence in London after its current one expires on 30 September. TfL expressed concerns around the company’s approach to reporting criminal offences and carrying out background checks on drivers.

Uber – whose app is used by 3.5M people in London – has since apologised and is looking to challenge the decision in the courts. “This ban would show the world that, far from being open, London is closed to innovative companies who bring choice to consumers,” said its general manager in London Tom Elvidge.

The CBI’s innovation director Tom Thackray added: “It’s not in the interests of our economy, people in London and in this case, drivers, to restrict new products and services. Reaching a sensible agreement that allows services to continue will matter to the millions of consumers and thousands of drivers who use the app.”

But transport innovation network the TravelSpirit Foundation’s chief technology officer Jeremy Dalton added: “This decision could help TfL establish better ground rules in the long run, ensuring that companies like Uber are part of a transport system that is more resilient and just.”

Future Cities Catapult strategy, markets and standards team lead Rushi Rama argued that cities must adapt faster to digital disruption such as that caused by Uber. “If we can anticipate the issues that digital disruption will bring, then we can put in place strategies and regulatory frameworks appropriate for them,” he suggested.

The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has expressed willingness to enter talks with Uber. He said: “I welcome innovative new companies that help Londoners by providing a better and more affordable service – but providing an innovative service is not an excuse for not following the rules.

“I suspect it will take some time before this situation with Uber fully plays out,” he added.