Crackdown on Uber requires delicate balance in face of Brexit

New chief faces his first crisis as Uber’s transport licence has been revoked by the Transport for London

A woman poses holding a smartphone showing the App for ride-sharing cab service Uber in London on September 22, 2017.
London transport authorities announced today they would not renew Uber's licence to operate in the city when it expires on September 30 for safety reasons, although it has three weeks to appeal. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS
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In the advent of the digital age, also known as the "Fourth Industrial Revolution", the disruption of traditional ways of doing business is a given.

When it comes to debating the positive and negative elements of the continuously changing landscape we live in today there are certainties as well as grey areas.

Uber, the ride hailing behemoth valued at about US$70 billion, has revolutionised the mode of transportation around the world. From the seamless booking process on one’s smartphone, lowering the cost of getting from one destination to another, to providing drivers with a source of income (although its treatment of drivers and resistance to view them as employees has been controversial) the company has been a pioneer in its industry.

Uber’s success has led others to the launch of similar platforms in Spain, the US, China and the Arab world. But success aside, Uber has been marred by scandals and litigation related to sexism and racism in the work place - which led to the eventual downfall of its chief executive Travis Kalanick and the appointment of Dara Khosrowshahi as his replacement last month.


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Mr Khosrowshahi now faces his first crisis as Uber’s transport licence has been revoked by Transport for London (TfL), the regulatory body which runs public travel in the UK capital.

TfL said that “Uber London Limited is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator licence”, and that the company’s “approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications”.

While a petition organised by the company against London’s decision not to renew its operating licence gathered 600,000 signatures in just over 24 hours it does not belittle the responsibilities of the company when it comes to adhering to the laws of the countries it operates in, an issue it has repeatedly been accused of flouting or tiptoeing around not just in the UK but in other countries in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The TfL is right to crack down on companies that violate or don’t adhere to transport regulations that safeguard the well-being of travellers. After all that’s the responsibility of all regulators no matter the industry.

Uber’s unequivocal rebuke, as opposed to a slap on the wrist, risks sending the wrong message to start-ups and technology companies who may very well take up French president Emmanuel Macron on their offer.

For the UK, the crackdown couldn’t come at a more sensitive time. With Brexit negotiations far from clear, and the country trying to persuade companies from leaving or downsizing their operations there is a delicate balance that policy makers need to strike.