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Judge restores Uber's London licence for 15 months
[LONDON] Uber won a legal bid on Tuesday to restore its operating licence in London after a judge overturned an earlier decision and granted the ride-hailing app a 15-month permit.
The capital's transport authority stripped the American firm of its licence last September amid safety concerns, but Uber appealed the decision and was allowed to continue operating while the case was heard.
At a hearing, its lawyers convinced England's chief magistrate that it had mended its ways with a raft of reforms.
"It has provided evidence to this court that it is now a fit and proper person," Judge Emma Arbuthnot wrote in a 13-page ruling granting the new licence.
However, the judge agreed with transport officials' decision to block the renewal last year, noting "a rather gung-ho attitude of those running the business in the very recent past".
She added: "The attitude of the previous managers... appeared to me on the evidence to be that of grow the business come what may."
But Arbuthnot said she had considered "the new governance arrangements" put in place and was persuaded that a shorter 15-month licence term would allow Transport for London (TfL), the authority, to judge Uber's changes.
Tom Elvidge, General Manager of Uber in the UK, welcomed the decision.
"We will continue to work with TfL to address their concerns and earn their trust, while providing the best possible service for our customers," he said in a statement.
The company has about 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million customers in the British capital.
TfL's concerns included how it obtained drivers' medical certificates and how criminal record checks were carried out.
In court Uber argued it had instituted "wholesale change" to these and other areas.
Measures adopted include the appointment of new non-executive directors, limits to driver hours, a new telephone support line, and better insurance policies, it said.
"We accept TfL's decision in September was the right decision on the evidence at the time," Uber's lawyer Tom de la Mare told the judge.
"That acceptance has led to wholesale change in the way we conduct our business."
London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the judge had "vindicated" his officials' initial decision and Uber was now "on probation".
"After years of operating poorly in London, Uber has now accepted that TfL's action in refusing to renew their licence was totally justified.
"Their 15-month licence has a clear set of conditions that TfL will thoroughly monitor and enforce."
Consumer watchdog SumOfUs greeted the u-turn with dismay.
"Uber's new directors threw its old bosses under the bus today, and persuaded a judge that the gig economy giant has turned a corner for good," said its campaigner Eoin Dubsky.
"Uber is still a shady corporation and shouldn't have been granted a new licence until it can show drivers are treated fairly."
Steve McNamara, general secretary of Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, echoed the criticism.
"Cab drivers are going to be hearing this in absolute disbelief," he told AFP outside the court, calling the ruling "a travesty".
"We've had two days of evidence, Uber have admitted an absolute catalogue of errors," he added.
"The magistrate has said 'be good boys, don't do it again and I'll give you a licence'."
In a separate case, Uber is also appealing against an employment court ruling that would give its drivers the right to paid holidays and the national minimum wage.
The London licence has been one of a number of headaches for Uber and its new chief executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who took over last August after founder Travis Kalanick was ousted following a series of scandals.
Its self-driving car programme in the United States suffered a blow with a deadly accident in March.
Uber also faces being banned in Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this month that the app was "finished", following an intense lobbying campaign from Istanbul taxi drivers.