Uber loses Brighton licence

Posted On 01 May 2018 at 3:51 pm

Philip Kolvin QC and Uber’s head of cities Fred Jones at last week’s hearing


Uber’s bid to renew its licence in Brighton and Hove has been rejected by the city council, which has found it is not a “fit and proper person”.

The panel made its unanimous decision on the basis of a 2016 data breach, which Uber attempted to cover up, and the company’s lack of commitment to use only Brighton and Hove licensed drivers, who are required to adhere to stricter rules than drivers in most other areas.

The council said the panel also considered a number of issues raised by those objecting to the application, but they found these to carry very little or no evidential weight.

The decision letter can be found here.

Chair of the licensing panel, Councillor Jackie O’Quinn, said: “When making Hackney Carriage and Private Hire operator licensing decisions, our priority is the safety of residents and visitors and, due to the data breach and the lack of commitment to using drivers licensed here, we were not satisfied that UBL are a fit and proper person to hold an operator’s licence in the city.

“All Brighton and Hove private hire and Hackney Carriage drivers in the city operate under the same licences and guidelines contained in the Blue Book and undergo the same background checks, whichever company they drive for.

“In the original application in 2015, UBL gave a firm commitment to adhere to the standards set out in the Blue Book and only to use Brighton & Hove licensed drivers. We do not feel the spirit of this commitment has been kept to.

“In the panel’s view, large numbers of taxis operating in the city that do not meet our Blue Book standards puts the safety of residents and visitors at potential risk.

“We recognise there are strong feelings on this issue and would like to thank all those who took the time to make submissions to the hearing.”

Councillor Lizzie Deane, member of the Uber Licensing Panel, said: “This was a unanimous, cross-party decision. The panel had a number of concerns, mainly relating to passenger safety and security. In particular, we heard of a major breach where over 57 million Uber users had their personal data compromised.

“Sadly, our fears that this may happen again have been realised, with news this week revealing that tens of thousands of Uber usernames, passwords and bank details have been hacked from UK accounts and sold on the ‘dark web’, enabling unauthorised users to make fraudulent journeys charged to other people’s accounts.

“On top of this, there are reports that drivers licensed in areas with less stringent requirements than the council’s own Blue Book are operating in Brighton and Hove – this means we cannot ensure safety measures such as CCTV, which protect both drivers and passengers.

“Where we have any concerns about safety, we cannot fail to put our residents first; and to expect that companies providing public transport in Brighton and Hove adhere to the safety guidance we have in place for local passengers and visitors.”

An Uber spokesman said: “This is a disappointing decision for the thousands of passengers and drivers who rely on our app in Brighton and Hove. We intend to appeal so we can continue serving the city.”

Andy Peters, secretary of the GMB Brighton and Hove taxi section, said: “It is a shame that Uber, the multi-billion dollar disruptive technology company, could not act in a responsible way to work in the city alongside the existing companies in a fair and competitive manner without encouraging taxi and private hire drivers from hundreds of miles away to predominantly work in the city, away from their respective enforcement officers, which is an important requirement for public safety.

“Our own council enforcement officers have worked tirelessly having to deal with a considerable amount of complaints made by the local trade of infringements caused by these uncontrollable out-of-town drivers who think nothing of illegally sitting on Brighton and Hove taxi ranks, sleeping in their vehicles night-in and night-out on the seafront and driving in the wrong direction in one way systems.

“Now, the disruptor has been disrupted.”

The multinational taxi hailing app has been operating in Brighton and Hove since 2016, after being granted a licence in 2015. However, its last renewal was only granted for six months after concerns were raised following Transport for London’s decision not to renew its operating licence there last year. Uber’s appeal against the TfL decision is due to take place over five days next month.

A hearing last Monday heard from representatives of the taxi trade who were strongly opposed to Uber’s application on several grounds, many related to the fact that hundreds of out of area drivers who do not adhere to the same strict regulations as Brighton drivers are required to have been working in the city.

These include CCTV being fitted in all taxis, and an operator with more than 100 cars being required to make 20% of their fleet wheelchair accessible. Uber argued that its Brighton division, which holds the operators licence, is only responsible for 62 cars and so this does not apply to them.

However, the relaxation of cross border hiring regulations means that Uber cars from many other areas are able to work in the city – without any requirement for wheelchair accessibility or CCTV.

In February, Uber announced it was going to restrict drivers to operate within several regions of the UK after local authorities said it was finding it impossible to regulate out of area drivers working in their jurisdiction, with some drivers travelling hundreds of miles across the country.

Figures released by Transport for London earlier this year showed that 78 drivers with a BN1, BN2 or BN3 postcode were licensed in London.

Following Uber’s announcement, 130 drivers applied for licenses with Lewes District Council, which the Uber website highlighted as offering cheaper and faster drivers licenses.

Uber said it offered £1,000 to drivers to get Brighton licenses at the end of last year, and the number of Brighton drivers had more than doubled since then from 26 to 62 drivers.

The 2016 data breach which Uber concealed from customers, even paying “hush money” to the hackers, was also brought up several times.

However, the hearing also heard from three female customers who said they were happy to use Uber, and did not care about the data breaches or out of area drivers.

Uber will still be able to operate in the city while its appeal is pending. And even if it loses its appeal, under current cross border rules Uber cars will still be allowed to drive here.

More follows.

  1. Chris Gummer Reply

    I am devastated to hear this news. UBER’s service is brilliant and it’s nice to use a company that belong in the modern day, supporting a cashless society, for example – amongst other things.

    I often use Uber to get home from a night out in Brighton, it costs approx £23 each time, which is cheaper than the £45 a Brighton & Hove taxi would cost. Are there any plans to review taxi fares in Brighton, so people get better value? Are there any plans to improve their efficiency and structure to save money so these savings can be passed onto customers – sadly, as often with these things, it’s the public that lose out. We are left thinking this is not done in our interest and just to fill the greed of some people’s pockets.

    • MICHAEL BROOM Reply

      Demonstrating everything wrong with society.
      Greed.

    • Valerie Paynter Reply

      £45? to go where? Littlehampton? Worthing? Heathrow? There is no such thing as a £45 fare within Brighton and Hove itself.

  2. ex uber driver Reply

    the greed of some people ???
    how much do you think the poor uber driver makes out of that £23?
    you do know uber management take 25% commision for each job, so thats £5.75 & minus his fuel !
    uber drivers barely make enougth money to survive, but i dont suppose that matters to people like you who just want cheap.
    shame the way the worlds going.

  3. Gav Reply

    On average it costs around 250 -450 pounds a week to keep a taxi/private hire vehicle on the road this would include insurance fuel finance and subs/ commission
    If you are unlucky enough to be at the high end of the 450 costs you would need to drive Chris gummer home 20 times a week before you even begin to start earning a wage to support your family pay ur bills and put food on the table “lol at the greed of some people”
    The greed is actually reflected on someone who wants a service for virtually nothing like Chris gummer does”

  4. Dave the cab. Reply

    I will probably be seen as biased making any comment on this, but when Uber first applied for an Operators licence in the city I was one of many existing drivers who said that they must operate on a level playing field and under the same rules as the rest of us.

    The 60+ drivers that they have that are licenced by Brighton and Hove were doing just that and I accepted them as fair competition, just as I would private hire drivers working with any of the other local operators.

    I feel sorry for these drivers, as they are now faced with having to re-licence themselves and their cars in another area (probably Lewes) if they wish to continue to drive private hire, as it is likely that none of the local companies will take them back after driving for Uber.

    I have no empathy for Uber themselves though. They have always appeared to be a very shady company, willing to lie and make promises that they never intended to keep just to get their foot in the door, and now that they are here they will attempt to bankrupt the council through the appeals process, rather than accept that they do not meet our high standards and leave.

    A perfect example is that when they were applying for their initial Brighton and Hove operators licence, they were asked by the council, and made the commitment to use only Brighton and Hove licenced cars and drivers.

    The council intended this to be a commitment that they would not use drivers from outside of the area (ie Lewes or London licenced drivers) for journeys that are within the local area, and this intention was clearly understood by everyone in the local industry (except Uber!). Anyone who is familiar with private hire laws in this country knows the ‘3 licence rule’ that the licences on the car, the driver and the operator must be issued by the same local council. So asking an operator to make a specific commitment to comply with just one part of this legislation is pretty pointless, as they have to do it in any case, it is the law!

    However at the recent renewal hearing, Uber manager Fred Jones claimed that it was the council that had misinterpreted their commitment and that they only ever intended to work to the letter of the law, and not the additional promises that they had made to the council to (somewhat dishonestly!) obtain their Brighton and Hove operators licence.

    In my opinion this goes someway to explaining why the council have considered Uber to not be a ‘fit and proper’ company. They either were so completely unaware of the law that they didn’t realise that they were making an additional commitment above and beyond what was required under the existing legislation, or they understood it fully and deliberately lied to the council and made false promises to obtain their operators licence. It doesn’t matter to me whether it was incompetence or dishonesty, either of which should disqualify them from being ‘fit and proper’.

  5. Colin lithgow Reply

    Well done Brighton and Hove, we in Edinburgh have to put up with these parasites breaking the rules plying for hire with out proper licence or public hire insurance, running a five year old Skoda while we are forced to pay £47000 for a euro 6 Mercedes only a matter of time before before it hits the fan.

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