By Ismail Shakil
(Reuters) – A decision by London’s transport regulator to strip Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] of its license to operate in the city was “disproportionate” and has put thousands of jobs at risk, British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Thursday.
“Yes there are safety concerns and issues for Uber to address, but what I want to see is a level playing field between the private firms and our wonderful London taxis, our black cabs, our great national institution,” May said in an interview with the BBC. (http://bbc.in/2fv3c52)
“I want to see a level playing field. I think a blanket ban is disproportionate,” she said.
Regulator Transport for London (TfL) deemed Uber unfit to run a taxi service on Sept. 22 and decided not to renew its license to operate when it expires on Saturday, citing the firm’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.
The U.S. ride services company could be driven out of one of its most important global markets. The fight comes as its new chief executive is trying to clean up Uber’s reputation as an aggressive and unapologetic firm, following a string of scandals.
Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi, who is less than a month into his new job, has apologized to Londoners for Uber’s mistakes and said it will appeal against the decision.
The Silicon valley firm will be allowed to operate in London until the license appeal process is exhausted, which could take several months.
“At a stroke of a pen, what the mayor has done is risked 40,000 jobs and of course … damaged the lives of those 3.5 million Uber users,” May said in the interview, given before the start of her Conservative Party’s annual conference on Sunday.
A court will hear Uber’s appeal of the decision by TfL, which is chaired by London Mayor Sadiq Khan.
Uber, which has 40,000 drivers in the city, has said it is working with the police to work out how it can better report incidents and offered to work with TfL to regain the license.
Khan, a politician from the national opposition Labour Party who has criticized the firm in the past, said on Monday he had asked TfL to be available to meet CEO Khosrowshahi.
A petition calling on London to overturn its decision not to renew Uber’s license had gathered more than 800,000 signatures by Thursday evening.
The company has faced regulatory and legal setbacks around the world, and been forced to quit several countries including Denmark and Hungary, amid opposition from traditional taxi services and concern among some regulators.
Uber, which began operating in London in 2012, is separately defending its business model in Britain and told a tribunal on Wednesday its drivers were self-employed, not workers entitled to a range of benefits.
Uber declined to comment on May’s remarks while TfL was not available outside regular UK business hours.
(Reporting by Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru; Editing by Adrian Croft, Peter Henderson and Tom Brown)