Uber hopes to renew licence in Brighton and Hove

Taxi app Uber will learn whether its licence to operate in Brighton and Hove has been granted later this week.

Monday, 23rd April 2018, 6:24 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 5:55 am
Council legal advisers with the three councillors on the licensing panel

Anger over the fact Uber drivers licensed in other areas were able to operate in the city were expressed at Hove Town Hall today (April 23).

Brighton and Hove City Council’s licensing panel met to discuss the company’s operators licence in the city, after it renewed it for just six months in October last year.

This comes after the company was refused a licence to operate in London, which will go to appeal in June.

Representatives from Uber speak to the panel, while objectors look on

The company launched in Brighton and Hove in October 2016, but has come in for criticism after drivers licensed with Transport for London were operating in the city through the app.

This practise has stopped after changes were recently made to the app, but drivers from other areas are still permitted to operate in the city.

Gerald Gouriet QC spoke on behalf of taxi firms Brighton and Hove Streamline, Brighton and Hove Radio Cabs and The Southern Taxi Group (City Cabs).

He described how drivers were coming from ‘Southampton to Margate’ - and referring to the Blue Book, a set of rules which Brighton and Hove licensed drivers 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.”

Brighton and Hove’s licensing rules mean drivers must have CCTV installed in their vehicles and have completed a knowledge test of the local roads.

Drivers with a licence in Lewes, for example, do not have to 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', and said: "They have taken, with some fanfare, London out of the equation. That leaves nine different local authorities, each with their own standards."

Uber explained how it would soon introduce a south east region, excluding London, which would mean drivers outside this wider area would not be able to operate in Brighton and Hove. Drivers from other areas within the region however, would be able to operate in Brighton and Hove, regardless of the fact the licensing rules differ from authority to authority..

Charles Holland QC, speaking on behalf of Brighton Sudanese Taxi Forum and United Taxi Drivers Association, said: “What they are seeking to do is have their cake and eat it, without any of the burden.

“They just don’t get it. They’re not really a private hire operator they are a tech company.”

But there were some who spoke in support of Uber.

Caroline Jones, who has lived Kemptown with her husband and two children for two years, 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.”

Peter Woodcock, a resident and taxi driver who is licensed in Lewes but works for Uber in Brighton, said: “The app works for me. Uber has made me feel safer when I’m driving.”

He said the safety of customers is his priority and added: “I feel that Uber also has that at the forefront of what they do.”

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.”

Concerns were also raised that of Uber’s 62 licensed drivers in the city, none were driving wheelchair accessible vehicles. Operators with more than 100 private hire vehicles in Brighton and Hove must have 20 per cent wheelchair accessible vehicles, although there is no obligation on those with fewer than 100.

Uber said it would look to incentivise Brighton and Hove drivers to drive accessible vehicles before it hits 100 vehicles.

The three councillors on the panel - Cllr Jackie O'Quinn (Labour), Cllr Lynda Hyde (Conservative) and Cllr Lizzie Deane (Green) - will announce its decision on Uber’s licence by Wednesday morning (April 25).