Cheers ring out as Uber loses its York licence

12 Dec 2017 @ 9.18 pm
| Politics, Transport

Uber has hit the end of the road in York – at least for now.

Members of the gambling, licensing & regulatory committee of City of York Council voted by seven to three – with two abstentions – to deny Uber a renewed licence.

That makes York the first authority to flat out deny Uber a renewal.

A huge cheer went up from taxi drivers gathered at the meeting as committee chair Helen Douglas said: “The licence stands refused.”

Uber was denied a new licence after operating in the city for 16 months.

Councillors decided it was no longer a fit and proper operator. Its current licence runs out on December 23. Shouts of “Thank you councillors” came from drivers at the meeting.

The company has 21 days to decide on whether to appeal against the committee’s decision and can continue to operate in York until its licence expires or the appeal is heard.

The decision won’t stop Uber drivers licensed by other authorities from working in York.

Breaking our traffic laws

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Saf Din, chair of the York Hackney Carriage Drivers Association, told the meeting: “Whilst York only has a handful of drivers licensed, Uber are doing what they are very good at – and that is systematically abusing the local laws and explicitly looking for loopholes by the use of out-of-town vehicles.

“Many have no knowledge of our city, lack of respect for our roads, illegally plying for hire on taxi ranks and breaking our traffic laws repeatedly.”

In their application, Uber said if it was not granted another licence they could still operate in York using drivers from elsewhere, said York private hire driver Wendy Loveday.

The taxi rank at York Station

She told councillors: “They’ve totally proven that they cannot recruit York drivers so have continued to encourage out-of-town drivers to come and work in York, running roughshod over our city, not caring about the consequences – and this is absolutely no reason whatsoever to relicence them.”

Jim Love, chairman of Fleetways Taxis, gave councillors examples of Uber journeys including

  • York station to Dunnington – should be 5.5 miles, Uber told driver to take a route of 10.1 miles
  • York station to Melrosegate – should be 3 miles, Uber route was 10 miles
  • Water End to Low Ousegate – should be 1.3 miles, Uber charged more than £60 for a £7 fare.

“If I told my drivers to go the wrong way round, we’d lose our licence,” Jim said.

‘Very proud of our service’

A sign in a York taxi window during a previous protest about Uber. Photograph: Richard McDougall

Neil McGonigle, general manager for Uber in York, spoke in support of the application.

He said there had been a steady increase in people using Uber in York with 28,000 uses of the app in the last three months.

Visitors liked it too, and people from 73 different countries had used the app in the city.

Passengers loved the convenience offered by Uber, as well as the safety aspect of every moment of their journeys being tracked, he said.

“I’m very proud of the service we provide to those 28,000 people. Personally I believe increased choice and competition is a good thing for both passengers and drivers in terms of helping to increase standards across the board.

“But I’m also very proud of the relationship we’ve been able to develop with the council and with licensing over the course of the year.”

Questioned by Cllr Margaret Wells he said there were “about ten” Uber drivers from York.

Asked how many drivers came into York from outside the city, Mr McGonigle said “that’s commercially sensitive information that I wouldn’t be prepared to provide in a public arena”.

However he did give a ballpark figure to councillors in private.

‘A great effort’

A united stance from York taxi drivers

Alison Hartley, senior solicitor at the council, said there was nothing York could do about Uber drivers from other areas coming into York. But the vote was about whether the authority considered it a fit and proper operator.

Cllr Dave Taylor said: “I don’t believe that Uber is a satisfactory operator to be working in this city.

“There are a large number of complaints, and over half of those complaints relate to Uber drivers.

“I’m concerned that drivers may be unfamiliar with our roads and make mistakes that put passengers at risk.”

Councillors put forward two grounds for objecting:

  1. the fact that Uber had been the subject of a massive data breach which affected 2.7 million UK users of its app
  2. the number of complaints against Uber in York.

After Uber’s licence renewal was rejected, Mike Palmer, secretary of the York Private Hire Association, told YorkMix:

It’s been a great effort brought about by the unprecedented joint effort of the Hackneys and Private Hire.

The councillors had a really hard decision to make for the safety of the York citizens, but within the constraints of the question they were asked they found a way to return a denial.

This decision will probably be appealed, but for now York is a beacon council in that we’re the first to flat out deny a renewal.

Neil McGonigle from Uber released this statement:

This is a disappointing vote for the riders and drivers who use our app in the city.

More choice and competition is a good thing for both consumers and licensed drivers in the area.

Passengers tell us they love being able to track their car on a live map, pay without cash and get a receipt with their fare and the route taken.

Licensed drivers partner with us because with Uber they can choose if, when and where they drive.

We will review the details of the decision once we receive the formal notice from the council.