Breaking all over the Internet right now: Government officials in London say Uber will no longer have a license to operate in the British capital after the end of this month.
The most shocking part of this story? The fact that the timing of the news apparently blindsided Uber.
In fact, Transport for London, the government agency in charge, apparently notified Uber that its license would be pulled just 60 seconds before tweeting the announcement to the world. (This, according to British reporter Alex Wickham.)
Understand TfL informed Uber of their decision 1 minute before they tweeted it. Extraordinary behaviour.-- Alex Wickham (@WikiGuido) September 22, 2017
Consider the Tweet the first shot in what's likely to be a long war, rather than a decisive battle. Uber immediately announced they'll appeal, and as a result the suspension won't won't go into effect right away, if ever.
While the timing and content of the announcement came as a surprise--which many on social media suggested was a masterful move by London to avoid Uber spinning the news before it had even been announced--Uber certainly knew it had issues in London. It reportedly had been told to expect a decision later this month.
"Transport for London and the mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice," the company said in a statement, and its general manager in London said the Uber would immediately appeal.
In a reminder of just how globally we are connected, #Uber quickly became the top trending hashtag in the world, and the top English-language hashtag by far, with articles and tweets about the London decision dominating. News stories and many social media posts opined that the city's move was a blatant attempt to protect London's iconic black cab taxi drivers.
With 3.5 million customers and 40,000 drivers, the ride-sharing company will have a good-sized lobby working for it, so that's probably not a surprise. Already, also trending: #boycottblackcabs--both by Londoners who said they wouldn't ride the iconic black taxis as a protest, and by anti-Uberists who encouraged people to tell their Uber horror stories (and include the hashtag to ensure they'd be seen).
While the announcement was a surprise to Uber and its drivers and riders in London, the company certainly knew it had issues there. For one thing, the transport regulators had issued Uber only a four-month temporary license, rather than the regular five-year license.
In its official announcement, the agency said it wasn't issuing Uber a license because of "a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues."
Included among these: "Its approach to reporting serious criminal offenses," and its "approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London," referring to the hugely controversial software the company allegedly used to hide its operations from regulators in some cities.
So where does this leave Londoners? Not alone, for one thing. Although Uber might seem ubiquitious to many users, it's actually been banned in quite a few countries and cities. Among them: Denmark, Hungary, Italy, Taiwan, much of Australia--plus the city of Austin, Texas, and the state of Alaska, to name a few.
The official announcement is below.
TfL has today informed Uber that it will not be issued with a private hire operator licence. pic.twitter.com/nlYD0ny2qo-- Transport for London (@TfL) September 22, 2017