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Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi apologizes to London as company bungles its response to ban

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If nothing else, the revoking of Uber’s license by the city of London and the company’s poorly handled response may reveal just how deep run the company’s cultural issues that its new CEO must fix.

The latest self-induced controversy started last Friday when Transport for London announced it would not renew the license for the privately-subsidized taxi service. The agency said San Francisco-based Uber was not “fit and proper” to hold such a license.

And so Uber responded reflexively as Uber learned to do under founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick who was booted out earlier this year. It went into attack mode.

“By wanting to ban our app from the capital, Transport for London and the Mayor have caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice,” Uber general manager Tom Elvidge said in a statement on Friday. “If this decision stands, it will put more than 40,000 licensed drivers out of work and deprive Londoners of a convenient and affordable form of transport. To defend the livelihoods of all those drivers, and the consumer choice of millions of Londoners who use our app, we intend to immediately challenge this in the courts.”

Grrrrr! Classic Uber. Let us do what we want, or we will do our best to fight you and create a negative storm of publicity for your pathetic hamlet.

It was left to new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi to write and then strategically leak a far more conciliatory message in an email to employees:

And in his own tweet:

A new day at Uber! Except not everyone got the message. Because Uber was still promoting a Change.org petition that slammed the city and its mayor and used the common logic that Uber likes to use: If you are against Uber, you are against innovation!

“This ban shows the world that London is far from being open and is closed to innovative companies, who bring choice to consumers and work opportunities to those who need them,” the petition reads. The company also hired a top-tier London lawyer to lead its appeal fight. And all this was compounded by Uber’s UK Head of Cities Fred Jones going on the radio this morning claiming the company didn’t understand what issues led to the revocation even as he said he’s like to discuss them TfL.

“It’s just not clear for us what their concerns might be,” said Jones, according to Reuters. “Once we understand them we can work with them to figure out what is it that they would like us to do and how can we move forward and I think that’s the important next step.”

The concerns were explicitly listed in TfL’s statement on the revocation:

  • Its approach to reporting serious criminal offences.
  • Its approach to how medical certificates are obtained.
  • Its approach to how Enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) checks are obtained.
  • Its approach to explaining the use of Greyball in London – software that could be used to block regulatory bodies from gaining full access to the app and prevent officials from undertaking regulatory or law enforcement duties.

This all managed to infuriate London mayor Sadiq Khan, who responded by saying, according to the Evening Standard:

“I’m happy to talk to anybody. What you can’t do is have a situation where unfair pressure is brought on a quasi-judicial body… I appreciate that Uber has an army of PR experts, an army of lawyers, they’ve also made aggressive threats about taking us to court…I’m quite clear in my mind that London should be a place for new technology, a place were new companies set up but they’ve got to play by the rules…If you play by the rules, you’re welcome in London, if you don’t, don’t be surprised if TfL take action against you.”

And so, the ball was back in the court of Khosrowshahi who re-apologized today. The full letter, via the Standard:

“We want to thank everyone who uses Uber for your support over the last few days. It’s been amazing to hear your stories of Uber improving lives across the city – from drivers who use our app to earn a living, to riders who rely on us to get home safely after a night out.

While Uber has revolutionised the way people move in cities around the world, it’s equally true that we’ve got things wrong along the way. On behalf of everyone at Uber globally, I apologise for the mistakes we’ve made.

We will appeal the decision on behalf of millions of Londoners, but we do so with the knowledge that we must also change. As Uber’s new CEO it’s my job to help Uber write its next chapter.

We won’t be perfect but we will listen to you; we will look to be long-term partners with the cities we serve; and we will run our business with humility, integrity and passion.

Here in London w’ve already started doing more to contribute to the city. Wheelchair accessible vehicles are on the road and our Clean Air Plan will help tackle pollution.

You have my commitment that we will work with London to make things right and keep this great global city moving safely.”

So, that’s all cleared up. It’s a new day at Uber. Again. And given its history, it’s not likely to be the last do-over Khosrowshahi will need as he tries to clean house at one of Silicon Valley’s most troubled startups.

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