London mayor says firms must play by the rules as Uber faces license renewal

LONDON (Reuters) – London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said everyone must play by the rules when asked on Thursday about taxi app Uber’s (UBER.

FILE PHOTO: A screen displays the company logo for Uber Technologies Inc on the day of its IPO at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan said everyone must play by the rules when asked on Thursday about taxi app Uber’s (UBER.N) London license, which is due to expire in less than a month’s time.

“It would be inappropriate for me during a time we’re considering the application from any operator to comment on it and give a running commentary,” Khan told LBC radio.

“You will know my track record which is standing up to the big boys, and they are boys, and make sure everyone plays by the rules whether you’re a big business or whether you’re a small business and I don’t care how many lawyers you employ or how big your PR budget.”

Regulator Transport for London decides on licenses and is chaired by Khan.

Reporting by Costas Pitas, Editing by Paul Sandle

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Judge Rules London Uber Drivers Can Sue Mayor For Racism Over Congestion Charges

A judge ruled Thursday that London Uber drivers can sue mayor Sadiq Khan for racial discrimination over congestion charges, according to …

A judge ruled Thursday that London Uber drivers can sue mayor Sadiq Khan for racial discrimination over congestion charges, according to Bloomberg.

The racial dispute lies in the mayor’s decision to impose a daily $15.13 congestion charge only on Uber drivers and minicabs, and not on the city’s traditional black cabs. Uber drivers alone are set to pay the charge, which is estimated to drop their yearly salary from £29,097 to £26,337, starting April 8.

However, the Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents the private drivers, say that the decision amounts to racial discrimination. In the Thursday court filings, the union said that 88% of black cab drivers are white, while 94% of those driving Uber or minicabs are from minority backgrounds. (RELATED: GOP Volunteers Kicked Out Of Uber As Driver Says ‘Welcome To The Resistance’)

A woman poses holding a smartphone showing the App for ride-sharing cab service Uber in London on September 22, 2017. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

A woman poses holding a smartphone showing the App for ride-sharing cab service Uber in London on September 22, 2017. (DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)

In addition, the union argued that female minicab drivers are also expected to be hit by the levy as they are more likely to work part-time compared to male drivers.

For Khan, the decision to not charge black cab drivers was because he did not want to limit the number of cars that are wheelchair accessible, according to the mayor’s lawyer. Traditionally, Uber vehicles and minicabs are not wheelchair accessible, while the box-shaped black cabs are.

“Clearly this requirement is not on its face racially discriminatory,” Khan’s lawyer Martin Chamberlain said ahead of the court’s ruling.

Additionally, Khan’s court filings said that the policy’s impact on minority drivers was weighed when deciding on the congestion charges. The London mayor also made the decision to carry out his plan to “reduce congestion” and protect “Londoners from harmful emissions,” according to a spokeswoman for the mayor’s office. (RELATED: Uber’s Security System Is Kicking Transgender Drivers Off The App Over Photo ID Mismatch)

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 10: A black cab driver takes part in a strike to protest against Uber on February 10, 2016 in London, England. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

LONDON, ENGLAND – FEBRUARY 10: A black cab driver takes part in a strike to protest against Uber on February 10, 2016 in London, England. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

The court ruling is only the newest development in the ongoing battle between private Uber drivers and those who operate the city’s classic Hackney carriages. In February, some black cab drivers attempted to challenge Uber’s license in London but were unsuccessful.

Putting in years of studying, black cab drivers must first pass London’s transport regulator tests, which requires vast knowledge of the city’s road networks, in order to operate the historic vehicles.

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Uber, Private Ride Drivers to Sue Mayor of London for Discrimination

Private hired drivers in London, many of whom work for Uber, published a “pre-action” letter Friday threatening to sue mayor Sadiq Khan for racial …

Private hired drivers in London, many of whom work for Uber, published a “pre-action” letter Friday threatening to sue mayor Sadiq Khan for racial discrimination unless he overturns a decision to charge the drivers a £12.50 ($15.22) daily congestion charge for driving in the city.

The central London congestion charge first launched in February 2003 as a means to reduce traffic, encourage the use of public transportation, and reduce greenhouse emissions.

What Independent Worker’s Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which issued the letter and has also launched a fundraising campaign, is not happy about is that black cabs are exempt from paying the fee that private drivers have been asked to pony up for come April.

Today we launch a huge case vs Sadiq Khan to #DriveOutDiscrimination

Making minicabs pay congestion charge needlessly attacks the poorer side of the taxi trade while doing little to address congestion

For justice, we need your help. Pledge’n’share now!https://t.co/rXtlXbA5nM

— IWGB (@IWGBunion) March 1, 2019

Uber Clean Air Fee sees London passengers charged 15p extra per mile from Wednesday

Leading ride hailing service Uber has announced a Clean Air Fee for its services in London that will see passengers pay 15p extra per mile. The fee …

Leading ride hailing service Uber has announced a Clean Air Fee for its services in London that will see passengers pay 15p extra per mile.

The fee, which will come into effect from Wednesday 16 January, is part of Uber’s Clean Air Plan, and is designed to support the Major of London Sadiq Khan’s wider plans to improve air quality in the UK capital.

Uber says that the money raised will go towards moving all Uber drivers to electric vehicles by 2025. This will be achieved initially by helping drivers to upgrade to fully electric cars, with surplus money raised put into clean air schemes and ongoing costs associated with running these electric vehicles.

The fee will affect all trips taken within the M25, with passengers charged per mile for the duration of their journey. They will not be charged for the distances their drivers have to travel to the collection point.

Passengers using Uber’s shared service, Uber POOL, will split the fee between those sharing a ride.

Uber says that although the plan is only being rolled out in London at present, it is keen to expand to other cities.

Uber Clean Air Fee part of a wider plan to woo London

Uber’s Clean Air Fee and the wider Clean Air Plan appear to be part of a concerted effort by the ride-sharing giant to develop and maintain a positive relationship with London’s lawmakers.

This is particularly important in light of the fact that the company has butted heads with the British legal system over its definition of its workers, and briefly lost its licence to operate in London last year.

Given that clean air has become such a focus for London’s lawmakers, the promise to ensure all 45,000 Uber drivers operating in the capital are doing so in electric vehicles by 2025 is clearly key to wooing Khan and his colleagues into backing the company’s presence in the city.

However, the with mayor previously saying he wanted to reduce the number of Uber drivers operating in the city, it remains to be seen if Uber’s clean air gambit will pay off.

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London Touts Itself As The AI Capital Of Europe

… might be tussling with Uber over its taxi license and grappling with Brexit, but it wants you to know that it’s still a major hub for artificial intelligence.
Photo by Parmy Olson

Don’t mention Brexit. London Mayor Sadiq Khan on the sidelines of the launch of London Tech Week on Monday 11 June at the Francis Crick Institute in London.

London might be tussling with Uber over its taxi license and grappling with Brexit, but it wants you to know that it’s still a major hub for artificial intelligence. On Monday the city’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, promoted a survey he’d commissioned that suggested London was the “capital” of AI for Europe.

“London has twice as many AI companies as Paris and Berlin combined,” Khan said on the sidelines of the launch of London Tech Week, a collection of 200 tech events across the city that also kicked off on Monday. (Disclosure: Forbes is the festival’s official media partner.)

Khan denied his transport office was smothering innovation by moving to take away Uber’s taxi license last year. “We’re not saying ‘no’ to innovation, but ‘no’ to rule-breaking,” he said.

Khan’s AI report was pulled together by CognitionX, a London-based AI advice service. The report found that investment into “AI companies” in London had exceeded £200 million in 2017, a year-on-year increase of more than 50%.

That represented about 10% of the £2.45 billion ($3.3 billion) raised by London tech firms last year. The most popular sectors for AI companies in London were finance, insurance and law.

The numbers are impressive but should be taken with a pinch of salt as CognitionX maintained a broad definition of an AI company, or “AI supplier.” It identified 758 such companies in London, 645 of which had headquarters in the capital. Each company was included because it sold “at least one AI product.”

As such the the report included companies that you might not normally associate with AI, including Starship Technologies and Babylon Health—the first makes self-driving delivery robots and the other is a telemedicine service that includes an automated symptom checker.

The report was also generous in including companies that carried out AI research, but didn’t sell any AI-related products or services, and companies whose AI-related product was on the “borderline” of the definition of AI.

Large businesses are increasingly being encouraged to incorporate AI into their services, and it’s becoming easier to do so thanks to off-the-shelf machine-learning tools they can license from cloud providers like Google Cloud (TensorFlow) or Amazon Web Services (Sage Maker and DeepLens).

The big AI showcase may be down to pressure on Khan to show that London is very much open for business and cutting-edge technology, despite the central government’s dithering over a Brexit deal with the European Union.

“London’s unique global status as a capital of finance, business, government and technology is our standout asset,” he said, adding that this wasn’t going to change even after Brexit.

But even the prospect of Brexit has already had some impact. It led the European Investment Fund (EIF), for instance, to halt nearly all its funding for startups in the U.K., which was being funnelled through venture capital firms here and was an important source of capital for tech entrepreneurs.

One VC firm here recently told Forbes that the EIF had pulled out of taking part in their funding at the 11th hour because of Brexit. And while the British Business Bank had pledged to pick up the shortfall, it had moved more slowly that the EIF.

Brexit’s obvious impact on the financial sector could also be having knock-on effects on startups. For example, many startups in the country have raised money from wealthy bankers through the Enterprise Investment Scheme in return for tax breaks. But with banks poised to move more staff to the Europe Continent, that well of funding could also start to dry up.

Paris is one city that’s trying its hardest to usurp London as the startup capital of Europe, and it is making headway. The city was ranked over London for the first time as Europe’s most attractive destination for foreign direct investment in 2017, according to a survey on European attractiveness by Ernst & Young, which was also released on Monday. (See our recent cover story: “France’s Big Pivot.”)

Khan is meanwhile following a trend among governments to put their full weight behind artificial intelligence—despite all the doom-mongering about job destruction.

French President Emmanuel Macron in March announced his government was investing $1.5 billion into cultivating artificial intelligence in France, while a month later, the British government led by Theresa May announced a flurry of public-private partnerships related to AI that it said were worth more than £1 billion ($1.3 billion).

In the race to promote big numbers and big commitments around hard-to-understand technology, the definitions of artificial intelligence and investment “partnerships” have loosened somewhat, and such announcements risk verging on sounding like hot air.

What will matter over time is the extent to which such AI companies, like the legal documents analyzer Eigen Technologies, which just raised £13 million ($17.4 million), can find profit in the markets they are turning upside down.

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