Uber attempted to cover up a major safety flaw that allowed drivers to use fake identities, a court has heard.
The ride-hailing app was accused of not notifying Transport for London of a glitch that let drivers swap their photos in the app, potentially letting drivers use profiles that were not theirs, in the run-up to the authority’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence to operate in London.
Uber’s licence was refused last November by TfL, which cited “several breaches that placed passengers and their safety at risk”. The cab app is appealing the decision and continues to operate in the capital under an extension while proceedings are ongoing.
Yesterday, at a hearing at Westminster Magistrates’ Court to prepare for the final appeal hearing next month, it was heard that Uber received 27,799 safety-related complaints in the first six months of 2019 alone.
The company was also accused of allowing the glitch that let drivers use bogus identities and shared accounts, while not flagging the issue to TfL.
In February, the black cab drivers’ group the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA) was granted permission to take part in the appeal.
At the hearing yesterday, Gerald Gouriet, for the LTDA, said: “Uber attempted to conceal the photo fraud issue. When that became unrealistic, they covered it up. It’s the concealment – that is the issue.”
However, Tim Ward, representing Uber, said the claim the company “attempted to conceal or minimise matters” was “completely undefined”. He said that Uber was “to put it mildly, strongly concerned about these proceedings” and argued the issue of the fake driver identities had been raised too late to be considered by the judge.
He added: “The issues are complex and wide-ranging as it is. I have no doubt legal teams on both sides are entirely flat-out trying to get this case ready for court. It is highly prejudicial for wide-ranging allegations to be made at this late stage. They have had this decision since February and Uber’s evidence since July.”
The judge, deputy chief magistrate Tan Ikram, said he wanted the issue resolved before the appeal went ahead.
After a 25-minute break in which lawyers thrashed out details, the judge was informed both sides had reached a consensus that it would be considered whether Uber concealed the photo fraud issue from TfL. The court also heard that at the final appeal hearing Uber will have a whole day to open its case, while TfL’s opening will take only 45 minutes, plus 30 minutes for submissions from the LTDA.
Speaking about the length of Uber’s opening submission, Mr Ward said: “The material is dense and lengthy and the issues are complex.”
He asked the judge if he was familiar with the Uber app, or whether he needed a “walkthrough”. Mr Ikram responded, chuckling: “It would be helpful. That’s not to say I haven’t got it somewhere on my phone but, yes.”
The final appeal is due to be heard on Sept 14.