Uber reactions: 'arrogant firm got its comeuppance', TfL's language is 'tough', or just posturing from the Mayor?

Industry reactions to the news that Transport for London (TfL) will not renew Uber's private hire licence after 30 September have been flooding in - here, PRWeek highlights the best.

Picture from @UberUK/Twitter
Picture from @UberUK/Twitter

The announcement on Friday late morning immediately shot to the top of the UK news agenda.

TfL shared its statement on Twitter, while Uber used the social network and an email campaign to encourage users to sign a petition in support of its service in the British capital.

Uber, which has used Portland for public affairs and corporate comms for more than two years, said in a statement that it would challenge the decision in the courts, and accused Mayor Sadiq Khan of having "caved in to a small number of people who want to restrict consumer choice".

The most high-profile opponent of Uber, black cab drivers body the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association, has used Newington Communications (formerly Bellenden) for its public affairs and corp comms for nearly two years. LTDA general secretary Steve McNamara said: "We expect Uber will again embark on a spurious legal challenge against the Mayor and TfL, and we will urge the court to uphold this decision. This immoral company has no place on London’s streets."

Comments from PR professionals have been varied, and plentiful...

Ian Hood, CEO and founder of Babel

"I welcome TfL’s decision not to renew Uber’s licence. I have an enormous amount of sympathy for the drivers who will be directly impacted but there has to come a point when corporate arrogance gets its comeuppance. We’ve seen a lot of that creeping into the tech sector in recent years as a number of heavyweights wield enormous power and have access to seemingly limitless resources.

"What we in the PR industry should always be asking, just as Bell Pottinger ought to have asked when approached by Oakbay Capital, is if the companies we are helping to promote are good corporate citizens. If you answer that question in the negative, and carry on representing the company in question, you are part of the problem."

Neil Bayley, corporate practice leader, Good Relations

"TfL's language has been tough. Judging Uber to be unfit is strong, but calling the company immoral with no place on London's streets is extreme. Equally on the Uber side, I don’t think most people will give much credence to their claim that London's reputation as a global tech hub will be damaged.

"This kind of public versus private mud-slinging makes great news. Ultimately, the situation will ease because Uber stands for progress - and we all need that. But the company needs to prove its progress delivers more equitably for all stakeholders. It will continue to think globally, but maybe needs to act locally more in-tune with the political, social and cultural rhythms that define unique places like London."

Ian Kirby, MD and head of media unit, MHP

"Good communication could have ensured this situation didn’t get to the point where the sudden announcement of the ban was seen as the only option by TfL. The rumour that TfL only gave them a minute’s notice before the decision was made public suggests a significant disconnect between the company and decision makers at the transport body.

"Uber will now need to look carefully at the changes it can make to address the concerns raised and immediately begin communicating any remedial action it intends to take effectively. It can also consider mobilising its three million-strong user base in London to build support and to put pressure on TfL."

"The decision also highlights risk that tech 'unicorns' like Uber can take, by assuming that growth and apparently happy users mean they do not have to build good relationships with regulators and ensure their service is able to adapt to local concerns."

Paul Brannon, associate director, Cohn & Wolfe

"Call me cynical, but this is pretty conveniently-timed posturing from the Mayor, following the news that Labour's most powerful elected politician would not be allowed to speak at his party's conference next week - although the party has since changed its mind on this. Shutting down Uber would cause so much uproar from businesses and Londoners it wouldn’t make political sense to follow it through - it's hugely unlikely that TfL or City Hall will stand firm.

"From a communications point of view, I can’t help noting the irony that Uber has placed 40,000 jobs at the crux of its rebuttal, given the lengths it has gone to in order to defend its 'drivers are nothing to do with us, guv' position."

Peter Elms, director, Alpaca Communications

"TfL’s announcement has just put Uber in its PR comfort zone. Since its inception Uber has really only been in reactive PR mode, fighting law suits and regulatory battles everywhere it goes. This is what they’re good at.

"Uber’s initial response to the announcement is telling - it’s going to make this a battle about the type of London we want, and play on Brexit themes. They’re going to make this decision feel like Brexit, which works in pro-'Remain' London. TfL’s comms team is going to be kept very busy."

Ben Goldsmith, founder, Goldsmith Communications

"One of Uber's first moves following TfL's decision was to launch a petition that called for the ruling to be overturned. Until that point, the dominant narrative was that Uber was the aggressor, flouting TfL's reasonable demand that Uber follow the same rules as everybody else. TfL went to great pains to list each unmet responsibilty in an earlier tweet.

"Uber's move was a deliberate tactic to recast themselves, and their 40,000 drivers, as the victims of the tale. In reality, it is perhaps closer to a battle of two Goliaths, with each wishing to be David."

Jennifer Thomas, head of internal comms, Direct Line Group

Speaking at the PRCA Conference today, Thomas said that while she was in an Uber earlier in the day, her driver learnt the news for the first time on the radio. She was unimpressed by the organisation's internal comms, saying: "For them to find out that they may not have a job when they're driving customers, it's not ideal."

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