London Mayor Sadiq Khan was last night under growing pressure to reverse the decision to banish Uber from the capital.
Nearly 700,000 people have signed a petition set up by the controversial taxi-hailing smartphone app urging him to back down.
Campaigners yesterday warned that banning Uber in London would make women less safe by forcing them to take public transport and unlicenced taxis late at night.
And Uber tried to back Mr Khan into a corner by signalling it is keen to strike a peace deal and could be willing to offer concessions to improve its drivers’ rights.
The US tech firm pleaded to sit down around the negotiating table with the mayor and officials at Transport for London (TfL), which ruled on Friday that Uber is ‘not fit and proper’ to hold a taxi licence.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan was last night under growing pressure to reverse the decision to banish Uber from the capital
Uber also claimed that Mr Khan and TfL have refused to meet it for detailed talks, and have not been clear about what it needs to do to ensure its licence is renewed.
Tom Elvidge, Uber’s general manager in London, said; ‘We’d like to know what we can do… to sit down and work together to get this right.’
Speaking to the Sunday Times, he added: ‘We haven’t been asked to make any changes. We’d like to know what we can do. But that requires a dialogue we haven’t been able to have.’
TfL declined to comment. A source close to Mr Khan claimed he was not involved in the decision to suspend Uber’s licence, arguing this was made by officials working in TfL’s licensing section.
But this received short shrift from Croydon South Tory MP Chris Philp, who said: ‘It is disgraceful that Sadiq Khan took away Uber’s licence without even bothering to sit down with them and discussing what needs to change first.
‘Clearly there are things that Uber needs to do to improve. But if Mr Khan is serious about improving safety he should have sat down with Uber and told them what they needed to change.
‘He appears to have put narrow political interests ahead of the interests of the wider general public.’
The criticism came as it emerged that Mr Khan’s successful campaign to become London Mayor was backed with a £30,000 donation from cab drivers’ union GMB, which has spearheaded the fight to ban Uber.
Last night a source close to TfL and the mayor offered hope to those who have signed the petition, and suggested talks to reach a peace deal with Uber are a possibility.
In a personal response to the petition, Mr Khan said: ‘I suspect it will take some time before the situation with Uber fully plays out.’
Uber – which has 40,000 drivers and 3.5 million users in London – is thought to be prepared to offer concessions such as sick pay for drivers and limits on their working hours.
But Labour’s leadership yesterday heaped pressure on Mr Khan to hold firm and claimed they had never taken an Uber taxi.
Shadow chancellor John McDonnell branded the firm a ‘disgrace’, stating: ‘Hand on heart, I don’t think I’ve ever used Uber.’ Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also said he did not think he had used the service.
But Mr Khan faced awkward criticism from a women’s rights campaigner, who argued that banning the taxi-calling app could endanger females in the capital who rely on Uber as an affordable method of travel late at night.
Nimco Ali, the co-founder of Daughters of Eve – which campaigns against female genital mutilation – warned that things were going to ‘get nasty’ for the London Mayor.
Miss Ali, who spoke at the Labour party conference in Brighton yesterday, wrote on Twitter: ‘The Mayor of London talks about public safety while knife crime is at a record high, and we women use Uber for safety [be]cause the buses are not [safe].’
Uber also claimed that Mr Khan and TfL have refused to meet it for detailed talks, and have not been clear about what it needs to do to ensure its licence is renewed
In another post, she wrote: ‘Uber has 40,000 drivers in London, and 3.5 million customers. This is going to get nasty for Sadiq Khan and I am backing Uber on this.’
Dame Esther Rantzen, who spent years leading safety campaigners, also voiced concerns that banning the app would put people in danger late at night.
She said: ‘In the past, when young people were desperate late at night and somebody stopped for them , many were tempted to jump into unlicenced black cabs which can be very dangerous. I’m extremely worried that may happen again.’
A key reason cited by TfL for not renewing Uber’s licence was its failure to report serious criminal offences.
This was flagged up last month by the head of Scotland Yard’s taxi unit, Neil Billany, who said the firm was not alerting the authorities about sex attacks and other serious crimes by drivers – and was prioritising its reputation over protecting the public.
Users have to download the Uber app onto their smartphone and activate it to hail one of its drivers. The company operates in over 600 cities and towns around the world, including more than 40 in the UK.
The firm’s London licence expires next Saturday, but has already said it intends to appeal against the ban. It will be able to continue to operate while the appeal is processed.