Uber’s application for a new London operating licence has been refused after at least 14,000 trips were made with drivers who were not the ones shown on the app.
Transport for London (TfL) announced it has not granted the ride-hailing firm a new private hire operator’s licence due to “several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk”.
Its decision was described as “extraordinary and wrong” by Uber, which pledged to “continue to operate as normal” while it launches an appeal against the decision.
TfL found that a change to Uber’s systems allowed unauthorised people to upload their photographs to legitimate driver accounts, enabling them to pick up passengers.
This resulted in 43 drivers making at least 14,000 uninsured trips which put “safety and security at risk”, the transport body warned.
Some of these drivers were unlicensed and one had received a police caution for distributing indecent images of children, TfL said.
The journeys mainly occurred in late 2018 and early 2019, although the most recent was November 5.
TfL said it was made aware of an issue in the summer but insisted it only fully established what was happening earlier this month.
Uber claimed the last incident was prior to November 5 and the fault has been fixed.
Another failure allowed Uber drivers who were dismissed or suspended to create a new account with the firm and continue carrying passengers.
TfL accepted that Uber has taken steps to prevent this type of activity, but expressed concern that the company’s systems were “easily manipulated”.
The transport body’s director of licensing, regulation and charging, Helen Chapman, said: “While we recognise Uber has made improvements, it is unacceptable that Uber has allowed passengers to get into minicabs with drivers who are potentially unlicensed and uninsured.
“It is clearly concerning that these issues arose, but it is also concerning that we cannot be confident that similar issues won’t happen again in future.”
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, who chairs TfL, acknowledged that the decision “may be unpopular with Uber users” but insisted that “their safety is the paramount concern”.
He went on: “Regulations are there to keep Londoners safe, and fully complying with TfL’s strict standards is essential if private hire operators want a licence to operate in London.”
Uber claimed it has audited every driver in London over the past two months and has robust systems in place to confirm the identity of drivers.
Chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi said: “We understand we’re held to a high bar, as we should be. But this TfL decision is just wrong.
“Over the last two years we have fundamentally changed how we operate in London. We have come very far and we will keep going, for the millions of drivers and riders who rely on us.”
Uber’s licence expires at 11.59pm on Monday, but it is allowed to continue to operate until the appeal process is completed.
TfL pledged to “closely scrutinise” the firm during this period.
The transport body first refused to renew the company’s licence in September 2017 amid safety fears.
After the firm appealed against the decision, it was handed a 15-month licence by a judge in June 2018.
When this expired in September, it was granted a two-month licence by TfL.
Uber says its London operation has 45,000 licensed drivers and 3.5 million customers.