A model holds up a phone showing the Uber app, in London. Picture: REUTERS
A model holds up a phone showing the Uber app, in London. Picture: REUTERS

London — Uber's appeal against the loss of its London licence got off to a slow start at Monday's preliminary hearing, when a judge said it should begin on April 30 for five days - but could be delayed until June.

There will be two further preliminary hearings on Tuesday and Wednesday next week to decide whether a trade union and the London Taxi Drivers’ Association can join Uber and regulator Transport for London (TfL) in the case.

TfL ruled in September that the ride-hailing service’s approach and conduct was not fit and proper to hold a private vehicle hire licence.

TfL shocked the Silicon Valley firm by rejecting Uber's licence renewal bid in September, citing its approach to reporting serious criminal offences and background checks on drivers.

Uber’s 40,000 drivers, representing about a third of all private-hire vehicles on the British capital’s roads, can continue to take passengers until the appeals process is exhausted, which could take years.

The legal battle pitches one of the world’s richest cities against a tech giant known for its forays into new markets around the world that have prompted bans, restrictions and protests, including by drivers of London’s famous black cabs.

Uber’s lawyers will begin their appeal at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on Monday, in what is expected to be a largely administrative hearing designed to set a date for a fuller hearing next year.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has apologised to Londoners and met TfL commissioner Mike Brown in October for what both sides described as constructive talks.

Brown told Reuters in November that "there are some discussions going on to make sure they are compliant".

Months of legal wrangling are likely unless the Silicon Valley app, valued at $70bn and with investors including Goldman Sachs, can come to a new arrangement with the regulator.

"We continue having constructive discussions with Transport for London in order to resolve this," an Uber spokesman said ahead of the hearing. "As our new CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has said, we are determined to make things right."

Losing its London licence was just one of many blows to Uber this year as a stream of executives left amid controversies involving allegations of sexual harassment and issues surrounding data privacy and business practices.

In Britain, Uber is looking to appoint a new boss after Jo Bertram announced her departure less than two weeks after London’s decision.

It also faces potential problems in the northern English city of Sheffield where its licence has been suspended and in Brighton, southern England, where local officials extended the firm’s licence for only six months to give them more time to consider the outcome of the dispute in London.

Reuters

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