Last Friday, the internet erupted with news of the latest blow to fall on embattled taxi service Uber.
In a press release on its website, Transport for London (TfL), the regulatory authority for transport in the metropolitan region, announced its decision to refuse the renewal of Uber’s London licence when it expires at the end of this month. This lack of licencing will force Uber’s ride-sharing operations in the capital to a halt.
London joins a growing list of cities, regions, and countries around the world that have taken on the ride-sharing platform.
The trend is particularly notable across Europe. Denmark banned the ride-sharing service this April. In Finland, its UberPop service, which allowed unlicenced drivers to take the wheel, was nixed last year. And in Italy, Uber’s operations were put on hold for almost two months this spring until a Roman court overturned the national ban
So why is Uber suddenly so beleaguered across the globe?
In London, TfL’s press release enumerated many of the issues that have brought Uber into conflict with regulatory bodies.
TfL contends that Uber “demonstrate[s] a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”
In London, it boils down to crime.
This year, Metropolitan Police allege that a London-based Uber driver was allowed to sexually assault his second known victim after Uber suppressed reports about the driver’s past attack in an effort to avoid bad press.
This is part of a wider trend. In May 2016, The Sun reported that a sexual attack perpetrated by an Uber driver occurred every 11 days in London the previous year.
Reports of sexual violence on the part of Uber drivers led to a temporary ban on the service in India. Stories of sexual assaults by Uber drivers have hit both Detroit and Montreal this month. Real or imagined, in the eyes of the public, and increasingly in the eyes of authorities, Uber has a problem with sexual violence.
Sexual assault, however, represents only one facet of Uber’s perceived problem with criminal practice. Many of Uber’s clashes with authorities have involved Uber’s repeated attempts around the world to get around or to simply ignore existing local ordinances in their attempts to expand.
Take the example of Greyball, specifically cited in the TfL press release. Greyball is Uber’s software used to vet potential riders and so deny service to those in violation of their T&Cs. In May, however, it was revealed that Uber was under investigation by US authorities for its alleged use of the software to screen officials investigating Uber or its drivers.
Elsewhere, such as in Finland, Uber has been accused of seeking to find ways around licencing requirements for its drivers. Banned in Taiwan last December, it was only allowed to resume service upon partnering with licensed operators.
Perhaps Uber’s greatest hurdle, however, is its competition with established, traditional taxi services, which stand to lose from all that Uber gains. In Paris, anger over Uber led taxi drivers to violent protests in the street in past years. Violence erupted over the same issue in Johannesburg this month. Violent or not, Uber faces a powerful lobby determined to see it fail.
London, in short, is symptomatic of a larger problem for Uber. Unless it takes serious steps to fix its image, further reversals could be in store.