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Uber stays on London Streets until at least April on appeal

[LONDON] Uber Technologies Inc's London fate won't be decided until mid-way through 2018 after a judge said that she will schedule an appeal hearing in either April or June, meaning the company can operate in its busiest European market until then.

Judge Emma Arbuthnot proposed two starting dates, April 30 or June 25, for the five-day trial at a short hearing in London Monday.

Transport for London's surprise decision to ban Uber on safety and regulatory concerns sent a clear message to technology companies that government agencies are starting to find their teeth in balancing the interests of the so-called gig economy's new business models against workers' rights and more traditional operators.  "Everyone wants to get on with it," Judge Arbuthnot said. There will be another pre-trial hearing starting Dec 19 to consider applications from the GMB trade union and a taxi drivers' group to become involved with the case.

The rulings will have important implications for Uber's business. London is the company's largest market outside the US, and a loss of its license or change to its labor rules could hurt attempts by the company, which is losing billions of dollars a year, to become profitable.

"We filed our appeal so that we can continue serving millions of riders and tens of thousands of drivers in London," an Uber spokesperson said. "However, we continue having constructive discussions with Transport for London in order to resolve this. As our new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said, we are determined to make things right." The Licensed Taxi Drivers' Association, which represents about 12,000 traditional black-cab drivers, is applying to get involved in the case because it believes Uber's business model forces drivers to unlawfully "ply for hire." It says black-cab drivers are allowed to do this - essentially advertising their immediate availability - while minicabs are supposed to be pre-booked.

Uber's court papers say that it wants the court to dismiss the GMB and LTDA applications to join the case. The papers say there is "no statutory jurisdiction" for them to be added.

Ahead of the Monday hearing a Transport for London spokesman said: "This is the preliminary hearing in Uber London Ltd's appeal of our decision not to grant them a new private hire operator's licence. No further comment will be made pending the full appeal hearing." In addition to the TfL challenge, Uber has lost at two separate courts in a high profile suit challenging the way it treats workers. The case, brought by two drivers, was the first against the company in Britain and could have ramifications for thousands of gig economy workers there. A Court of Appeal date should be scheduled for early next year.