Uber refused licence in Brighton and Hove

Representatives from Uber speaking at the licensing panel
Representatives from Uber speaking at the licensing panel

Taxi app Uber has been told it can no longer operate in Brighton and Hove.

The global firm put its case to the city's licensing panel last Monday (April 23), but after a week of deliberation, councillors refused the licence.

Three councillors had to decide whether the controversial taxi company was a ‘fit and proper person’ to operate in the city.

But ultimately they decided it wasn't, and the unanimous decision to turn down the licence was revealed this afternoon (May 1).

Brighton and Hove City Council's decision comes after Uber was refused a licence to operate in London, which will go to appeal in June.

The panel said it had 'significant concerns' about the company’s data breach and Uber’s lack of commitment to use only Brighton and Hove licensed drivers in the city.

Councillor Jackie O’Quinn, chair of the licensing panel, said: “When making Hackney Carriage and private hire operator licensing decisions, our priority is the safety of residents and visitors and, due to the data breach and the lack of commitment to using drivers licensed here, we were not satisfied that UBL (Uber Britannia Ltd) are a fit and proper person to hold an operator’s licence in the city.

“All Brighton and Hove private hire and Hackney Carriage drivers in the city operate under the same licences and guidelines contained in the Blue Book and undergo the same background checks, whichever company they drive for. In the original application in 2015, UBL gave a firm commitment to adhere to the standards set out in the Blue Book and only to use Brighton and Hove licensed drivers.

"We do not feel the spirit of this commitment has been kept to. In the panel’s view, large numbers of taxis operating in the city that do not meet our Blue Book standards puts the safety of residents and visitors at potential risk.

“We recognise there are strong feelings on this issue and would like to thank all those who took the time to make submissions to the hearing.”

Representatives from local taxi firms made their case at last week's meeting, urging the council to refuse the licence.

Gerald Gouriet QC, a lawyer for Streamline, RadioCabs and City Cabs, told the panel why it shouldn’t renew the tech giant’s licence.

He said Brighton and Hove’s licensing rules mean drivers must have CCTV in their vehicles and have completed a knowledge test of the local roads, but drivers with a licence in Lewes do not have those requirements and a licence is cheaper. But they are able to operate in Brighton through Uber.

Mr Gouriet called it ‘a wholesale negation of local licensing control’.

He described how drivers were coming from ‘Southampton to Margate’ – and referring to the Blue Book, a set of rules which drivers licensed in Brighton and Hove had to sign up to –he said: “The feeling among many… is there’s no point in having it if you’re going to be flooded with drivers of whom you have no control.”

But not all agreed.

Kemptown resident Caroline Jones, who spoke at the licensing hearing, explained how Uber had improved her family’s quality of life.

She said: “We were delighted when Uber came to Brighton, it feeds into the quality of life that we have here, because we can move around so easily and freely.

“I think once you start you really don’t look back. I have never not found a driver to take me where I want to go within about ten minutes. I have never had a bad experience with a driver. I have always found them to be polite, hospitable...

“If we have Uber, everyone has to up their game.”

On behalf of Uber, Philip Colvin QC said: “When there are objections to Uber they tend not to be from customers, they come from trade operators who find Uber to be a competitive force in their area. Customers vote with their feet – well their fingers really – by using this app. What Uber wants is happy customers and happy, well-paid drivers, driving in a safe environment.”

Uber launched in Brighton and Hove in October 2016, but had come in for criticism after drivers licensed with Transport for London were operating in the city through the app. Changes were recently made to the app to prevent this, but drivers from other neighbouring areas are still able to operate in the city.

The city council’s licensing panel met to discuss the company’s operator’s licence on April 23, after it renewed it for just six months in October last year.

A decision was set to be announced last Wednesday (April 25), but the decision was delayed.

The decision on Uber’s licence was made by Cllr Jackie O’Quinn (Labour), Cllr Lynda Hyde (Conservative) and Cllr Lizzie Deane (Green).

If Uber decide to appeal against the decision, their drivers licensed with Brighton and Hove can continue to operate in the city while the appeal is heard. Any appeal must be made to the Magistrates Court in Edward Street, Brighton within 21 days of the decision.

For more details on the decision, click here.