Uber Technologies Inc. found an unexpected ally at the start of its court battle to continue operating in London: the regulator that banned the global ride-sharing firm in the first place.
Transport for London’s position has “moved to one of effective neutrality,” Uber lawyer Thomas de la Mare said Monday at the start of the highly anticipated hearing in the U.K. capital. In September, TfL said Uber wasn’t “fit and proper” to operate in the city and refused to extend its permit.
“We accept the onus is on us,” de la Mare said. “We accept that TfL’s decision was the right decision at the time.”
The list of issues with Uber “remain relevant” but they are “no longer live matters of concern to TfL. They have either been addressed by changes introduced by” Uber “or they relate to an historic course of conduct that has now been abandoned,” lawyers for TfL said. However, the judge should take into account Uber’s historic conduct.
The decision to ban Uber sent shockwaves through a business that was already scrambling to head off multiple lawsuits and probes around the world. Since then, Uber has attempted to allay all the concerns the regulator had over safety and governance in a series of public moves including new limits on the hours drivers can operate and board-level appointments.
“It’s neutrality with some degree of skepticism expressed at various junctures” whether changes will work in practice, de la Mare said.
TfL’s move to ban Uber sent a clear message to technology companies that government agencies are becoming more aggressive in balancing the interests of the so-called gig economy’s new business models against workers’ rights and more traditional operators.
As of March 2018, Uber drivers represented 38 percent of the 114,054 active private hire drivers in London, TfL said in documents prepared for the trial. London is Uber’s biggest market outside of the U.S. with more than 3.6 million people using the app regularly.
Over to You
“The decision if Uber is now a fit and proper person is for you,” the regulator’s lawyer told Judge Emma Arbuthnot in court Monday. “If you conclude a license should be granted, we invite you to make it a short license and subject to very strict conditions.”
Arbuthnot will have to rule whether Uber has done enough to earn itself a license. If she does, she also has the power to decide the length of any permit. At a hearing in April, lawyers for Uber suggested that an 18-month license would perhaps be more appropriate than a five-year one usually given.
“I would have thought an 18-month license is too long,” she said at the start of the hearing.
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