By Miles Hadfield
Controversial ride-hailing app Uber has had its London operating licence suspended after regulators highlighted a “pattern of failures” that put passengers at risk.
The news comes amid growing concern over the market dominance of new tech giants, which has prompted the rise of the platform co-op movement, which develops worker-led alternatives to provide fairer employment conditions and people-led services.
In London, black cab drivers have set up a platform co-op rival to Uber, TaxiApp, a worker-owned, non-profit ride-hailing service.
TfL said a change to Uber’s identification systems meant unauthorised drivers could upload their photos to other Uber driver accounts, which had allowed them to pick up riders as though they were booked drivers in at least 14,000 trips.
“This means all the journeys were uninsured and some passenger journeys took place with unlicensed drivers, one of which had previously had their licence revoked by TfL,” the regulator said.
TfL added that dismissed or suspended Uber drivers were able to create an account and carry passengers, and added there had been “several insurance-related issues”.
Shares fell 1% at the San Francisco based company, which plans to appeal, after the news. Uber branded the decision “extraordinary and wrong” and said it had carried out a thorough audit of its London drivers and added a series of safety features to its app.
Leading figures from the co-op movement welcomed the decision. Ed Mayo, secretary general of apex body Co-operatives UK, said: “Platform co-ops like London’s TaxiApp offer a fairer, democratic option for workers and customers.
“But platform co-ops are often up against market leaders whose dominance rests on big money and irresponsible business strategies. The more regulators take action against abusive monopolies, the more opportunities there will be for platform co-ops to thrive.”
TfL’s decision comes two weeks after the Who Owns the World platform co-op conference in New York, where several speakers called for tougher regulation against tech giants like Uber to allow a more diverse market to develop.
Trebor Scholz of the Institute for the Cooperative Digital Economy, who convened the conference, told the News that TfL’s decision would give “temporary breathing room” to alternative models.
He said: “Regulators the world over struggle to find their voice in relation to Uber. While Uber has a clear objective, unlimited resources, and a well-honed method of entering cities, asserting itself as the consumer’s choice, city officials from Cape Town, Rome, Bangalore, to Berlin, NYC, and Barcelona are slowly developing their own visions of data sovereignty, taking back their own cities.”
He added: “Uber losing its license to operate in London shows that the global takeover of Uber can be slowed down; it provides temporary breathing room for experiments with alternative models such as Eva.coop, LibreTaxi, or Cotabo.
“It is an important moment for the International Cooperative Alliance that is ideally positioned to coordinate an international, cooperative response to the prospective unemployment faced by countless taxi co-op members around the world.
“London becomes part of a growing number of cities that play an important role in shaping a more diversified digital landscape.”
Prof Scholz added that he was due to visit government ministers and co-op leaders in the Indian state of Kerala, where Uber is allowed to operate despite the progressive policies of the region. In the city of Kochi, a new digital taxi co-op has been set up by team of a brand-new digital taxi co-op there, which is partly funded by the state of Kerala.