Uber can continue to operate in the capital after Transport for London (TfL) granted it a four-month extension to its licence, potentially opening it up to paying millions in pounds when a new licence fee regime is introduced.
TfL is currently consulting on a new plan to change how it charges minicab drivers, with Uber facing a possible fee jump from its current £2,826 for a five-year licence to over £2m for its 30,000 drivers.
A standard five-year extension of Uber’s licence may have meant it remained on the old fee system until 2022, which could have been politically unpopular. The TfL consultation closes on 16 June.
TfL previously wrote to private hire operators saying it would consider issuing temporary licences until the fee-change consultation had ended, City A.M. understands.
Uber’s licence extension also means TfL has temporarily ignored complaints by black cab taxi drivers and minicab companies, who argued the the San Francisco-headquartered firm should not be allowed to operate in London until it improves working conditions for drivers.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association (LTDA), which represents more than 10,000 black cab drivers, wrote to TfL in March to oppose Uber's licence renewal, calling it a "sham" private-hire vehicle operation.
United Private Hire Drivers (UPHD), which represents hundreds of private-hire vehicle drivers, previously wrote to TfL to call for new conditions for the renewal of Uber's licence.
James Farrar, the founder of UPHD, said: "We don't understand why TfL needs four months to understand the consequences of the denial of workers' rights and the impact on public safety [of Uber's operating practices]".
He added: "It's another symptom of how TfL is not fit for purpose."
Uber has had a sometimes tense relationship with TfL, which regulates the sector as well as running the capital’s public transport.
Last year Uber launched legal action against TfL regulations which imposed new requirements on the company, including a rule that all drivers needed to pass an English language test and a stipulation that a customer service call centre had to be based in the capital.
The firm has also faced regulatory trouble around the world. Earlier this month the European Court of Justice issued an opinion that Uber is a transport company rather than a tech company, and that it should be regulated as such.
A TfL spokesperson said: “Uber London Limited has been granted a four-month private hire operator licence. This will allow us to conclude our consideration of a five-year licence”.
An Uber spokesperson said: “Millions of Londoners rely on Uber to get a reliable ride at the touch of a button and thousands of licensed drivers make money through our app. We look forward to continuing to help keep London moving.”