More than half a million people have signed a petition calling for Transport for London to reverse its decision to strip Uber of its licence to operate in the capital, making it the fastest growing petition in the UK this year.
The campaign Save Your Uber in London was set up by the ride-sharing firm on the Change.org website after it was announced on Friday that it would not have its licence renewed when it expires on 30 September.
The petition had gained more than 500,000 signatures by Saturday afternoon as the company urged users to sign.
Kajal Odedra, the UK director at Change.org, said: “That is the fastest growing petition we’ve seen in the UK this year. The speed with which this grew shows how powerful online campaigning can be.”
Uber, which has 40,000 drivers in London and claims that 3.5 million people use the service, plans to appeal against the decision by TfL, which said the US-based company’s approach and conduct was “not fit and proper” to hold a private vehicle hire licence.
The decision was backed by the capital’s black-cab drivers and the mayor, Sadiq Khan, who said anger from Uber customers and drivers should be directed at the company.
“I know that Uber has become a popular service for many Londoners – but it would be wrong for TfL to license Uber if there was any way this could pose a threat to Londoners’ safety or security,” he said in a statement on Saturday.
“As mayor of London I welcome innovative new companies that help Londoners by providing a better and more affordable service – but providing an innovative service is not an excuse for not following the rules.
“I have every sympathy with Uber drivers and customers affected by this decision but their anger really should be directed at Uber. They have let down their drivers and customers by failing, in the view of TfL, to act as a fit and proper operator.”
Fred Jones, Uber’s UK head of cities, said Khan and TfL had “caved to pressure from a small number of individuals and groups that want to protect the status quo and reduce consumer choice and competition”.
He said TfL had regularly audited Uber during its five and half years operating in London.
“They’ve carried out the largest audit in their history and we passed with flying colours,” he told the BBC. “The last time they audited us to check we were playing by the rules, they found that there were zero errors in our processes.”
He said it was the responsibility of TfL to check and license Uber drivers. “When a driver signs up to the app, we make sure they’ve got all the correct paperwork from Transport for London but we don’t do background checks ourselves.”
Earlier, Uber’s chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, used Twitter to urge Londoners to “work with us” to resolve the issue.
Khosrowshahi, who was brought in to lead the company after a string of scandals involving allegations of sexism and bullying, wrote to staff on Friday saying he was disappointed by TfL’s decision, which would have profound consequences for its drivers and users.
But he admitted that the loss of its licence was the result of the company’s “bad reputation”.
“While the impulse may be to say that this is unfair, one of the lessons I’ve learned over time is that change comes from self-reflection. So it’s worth examining how we got here,” the email to staff said.
“The truth is that there is a high cost to a bad reputation. Irrespective of whether we did everything that is being said about us in London today (and to be clear, I don’t think we did), it really matters what people think of us, especially in a global business like ours, where actions in one part of the world can have serious consequences in another.
“Going forward, it’s critical that we act with integrity in everything we do, and learn how to be a better partner to every city we operate in. That doesn’t mean abandoning our principles – we will vigorously appeal TfL’s decision – but rather building trust through our actions and our behavior. In doing so, we will show that Uber is not just a really great product, but a really great company that is meaningfully contributing to society, beyond its business and its bottom line.”
Greg Hands, the government minister for London, criticised TfL’s decision. “At the flick of a pen Sadiq Khan is threatening to put 40,000 people out of work and leave 3.5 million users of Uber stranded,” he tweeted.
He said Uber had to address safety concerns and it was important that there was a level playing field across the private hire sector in the capital, but added: “Blanket ban will cause massive inconvenience to millions of Londoners, showing that the mayor is closed to business innovation. Once again the actions of Labour leave ordinary working people [to] pay the price for it.”
TfL said Uber could operate until the appeals process was exhausted, which could take months.
The agency said: “Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential public safety and security implications.”
Specifically, TfL cited Uber’s approach to reporting serious criminal offences, background checks on drivers and software called Greyball that could be used to block regulators from gaining full access to the app.
London’s traditional black-cab drivers have accused Uber of undercutting safety rules and threatening their livelihoods. Uber has been criticised by unions and MPs too and been embroiled in legal battles over workers’ rights.
The Metropolitan police complained in August that Uber was either not disclosing, or taking too long to report, serious crimes, including sexual assaults, and this put the public at risk. Of the 154 allegations of rape or sexual assault made to police in London between February 2015 and February 2016 in which the suspect was a taxi driver, 32 concerned Uber, according to the capital’s police force.
However, many people used social media to protest about the decision.