Taxi trade brands TfL ‘cowards’ over controversial Uber four-month licence renewal

Transport for London has granted Uber a temporary four-month London operator’s licence rather than a full five-year licence, claiming it needs more time to decide whether to allow the taxi app to remain operating in the capital.

The app-hire firm was first granted a licence to operate in London in 2012, but has proved controversial among London’s traditional cabbies for its working practices with City Hall facing calls to ban the app.

In a statement, TfL said: “Uber London Limited has been granted a four-month private hire operator licence. This will allow us to conclude our consideration of a five-year licence.”

The decision has drawn an angry response from unions and taxi trade associations, which believe TfL is trying to buy time pending the outcome of a landmark employment tribunal in September, and TfL’s plans to introduce new licence fees later this year, subject to consultation.

If TfL had renewed Uber’s licence on May 30, it would only have had to pay £2,826 in fees. Under TfL’s proposed new structure, Uber would face a bill of around £2.2 million. The proposed rules are under consultation until June 16, and could be implemented within the four-month timeframe.

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), said he did not believe TfL had the powers to issue a temporary licence: “We think that TfL’s reason for this temporary licence is unlawful. This is totally unprecedented. We will be challenging this coward’s decision.”

McNamara, who earlier called on TfL not to renew Uber’s licence, told The Guardian: “Uber has still not answered questions that TFL asked months ago. We say they are either safe to licence or they’re not. You can’t be a little bit pregnant.”

The GMB union said it would continue to put pressure on TfL and Uber to guarantee safe working practices and basic employment rights, such as minimum wages and holiday pay before they renew a 5 year licence. Earlier in the year, a tribunal ruled that Uber drivers were “workers” rather than self-employed individuals.

Steve Garelick, GMB Branch Secretary said: “TfL are aware of GMB concerns on the renewal of Uber’s private hire vehicle operator’s licence and have ignored the issue. They have simply kicked it in to the long grass by granting a four-month extension.”

He continued: “TfL have not listened to GMB concerns and they are ducking the issue, showing a distinct lack of courage by not imposing any conditions. TfL are prepared to continue to ignore the concern of the trade as a whole.”

The GMB union threatened legal action earlier this month, claiming the firm’s business model sees drivers work excessive hours “to the detriment of the health and safety” of them and other road users.

Almost 85,000 people have signed a petition started by global campaign group, SumOfUs calling on London mayor Sadiq Khan and TfL not to renew Uber’s five-year license unless the company guarantees its drivers the national minimum wage, paid holidays and sick leave.

An Uber spokesperson said: “Millions of Londoners rely on Uber to get a reliable ride at the touch of a button and thousands of licensed drivers make money through our app. We look forward to continuing to help keep London moving.”