LONDON—Uber has lost its license to operate in London, one of its most important markets, after regulators found widespread instances of unauthorized drivers using the ride-hailing app to pick up customers, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Transport for London (TFL), the city’s main transportation regulator, found 14,000 instances in late 2018 and early 2019 in which unauthorized drivers were able to use Uber’s software to meet and pick up riders. The loophole meant that if a user booked one driver to pick them up, a second driver could pick them up instead, using their own photo on the first driver’s account. All 14,000 rides identified were uninsured, and two of 43 drivers involved were unlicensed drivers—meaning they hadn’t been vetted by the regulator for a criminal background or driving ability. At least one ride involved a driver whose license had been revoked. Uber told TFL about the account spoofing this summer, but regulators found the problem to be widespread. When asked if similar driver account spoofing had occurred in other cities, an Uber spokeswoman declined to comment. Uber has been trying to curb unauthorized drivers since at least 2016, when it began asking drivers to take selfies to match a photo on file.
Uber has 21 days to launch its appeal and can continue to operate over an eight-month period until the process is exhausted. The uncertainty in London is the latest setback for Uber, which has been trying to repair its relationship with governments and regulators world-wide.
Uber says it has 3.5 million riders and 45,000 licensed drivers in London. The app has been widely embraced by Londoners seeking a cheap, convenient alternative to the city’s famous black cabs. Yanking Uber drivers off the road would also put extra strain on the city’s transportation networks.