Taxi drivers want to bring proceedings for perjury against Uber’s senior UK managers after Transport for London (TfL) accused it of lying to the High Court.
In a 21-page letter to Uber seen by The Sunday Times, TfL says it refused to renew the company’s operating licence in September because Uber had given it “materially false and misleading” information many times.
Had Uber told the truth, its operating model would probably have been found “unlawful” in a 2015 High Court action, TfL writes, accusing the company of giving “false” evidence to win the case.
The Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), which represents drivers of black cabs and was a party to the court action, said last week it would apply to overturn the judgment and bring proceedings against senior Uber managers for perjury.
TfL’s previously secret letter to Uber explaining its licence decision was obtained during the tech giant’s appeal last week against the ban. The letter’s strong tone means that prospects for compromise seem less likely. Uber drivers continue to operate in London pending the appeal decision.
The TfL letter accuses Uber of a “lack of regard to the safety of its customers”, citing disclosures in the press that Uber failed to report to police a series of sex attacks by its drivers. It also says Uber conducted medical examinations of new drivers over the internet, and helped conduct criminal checks on its own drivers, a process that was supposed to be carried out independently.
The 2015 court case arose after the LTDA brought a private prosecution against Uber, claiming that the smartphones used by its drivers acted as taximeters, which only licensed black cabs may have by law. The case was taken over by TfL and the High Court ruled that drivers’ smartphones were not taximeters.
Uber had told the judge, Mr Justice Ouseley, that its central computer systems, not individual drivers, handled all bookings and fares. It had told TfL the same thing many times. However, TfL’s letter reveals that this year it asked the consultancy firm Deloitte to examine Uber’s IT systems. Deloitte found the company’s central computers accepted a booking only after a driver had done so.
TfL’s letter states that it believed that “the point is determinative and that Uber’s current operating model is accordingly unlawful”.
It says that, even if it is wrong about this, the “materially false and misleading” information it and the court had been given by Uber was one of three factors that made the company “not fit and proper” to hold an operator’s licence.
The other factors were that Uber had failed to protect customers from harm because of faulty medical, criminal record and crime reporting checks, and that it had not been “open and transparent” about its use of Greyball, software that TfL has said could be used to defeat regulators.
Uber — which maintains it has not used Greyball in London — says the software denies ride requests to users it regards as “fraudulent”.
The letter describes Jo Bertram, Uber UK’s then general manager, as “unsatisfactory and unhelpful” about her role in Greyball. For four months, the letter says, Bertram avoided answering TfL’s direct questions about whether she had used it.
Only on August 24 this year did Uber admit that she “was party to correspondence relating to the use of Greyball technology to evade enforcement in other jurisdictions for which she had personal responsibility”. A week later she resigned.
Uber said: “Uber London accepts bookings as a licensed private hire operator and always has. We continue having constructive discussions with TfL in order to address the issues they raised in the letter.”
TfL did not respond to requests for comment.