The news that Transport for London decided not to renew Uber’s licence following its expiry on 30 September 2017 couldn’t have gone unnoticed last week. It sparked vastly contrasting reactions from disgruntled supporters to triumphant critics alike.
Uber has confirmed that it is appealing the decision and has 21 days from the date that the decision was communicated to it to do so. Perhaps ironically that means that Uber must submit its appeal by Friday 13 October, although it can continue to operate in the meantime.
So what led to such drastic action in one of Uber’s most successful markets? Well, TfL found that Uber was “not fit and proper” to operate in the capital and confirmed in a statement that “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.”
This is not the first time Uber has operated under controversy since its inception in 2009. It has been involved in many legal and regulatory battles across the world, with some countries taking the decision to ban its operations altogether and protests taking place in the likes of Melbourne, Buenos Aires and New Delhi.
Both the rate at which the news of TfL’s decision spread across news publications, online forums and social media and the fact that the “save Uber” petition gained more than half a million signatures within the 24 hours that followed, show how fast a story can snowball and how far reaching it can be; affecting a company’s global reputation. Some of the reported facts were accurate, but there were inaccuracies and misreporting. So how does Uber, or indeed any company, handle these controversies from a reputational standpoint?
Clearly, like any company, Uber must operate within the parameters of the law. There are however numerous steps that can be taken in order to manage a crisis and to limit the damage caused (including in some situations preventing publication altogether). Before an issue hatches it is helpful to have a contingency plan. The importance of being prepared cannot be underestimated. In the same way, having the right team already in place to take preventative action or to assist in a crisis can be invaluable.
Our Reputation team is often instructed to assist in a range of critical situations, such as crisis management, threatened publication/broadcast of allegations and online attacks. We regularly work alongside leading companies and their internal and/or external legal and communications teams to provide specialist legal input into media issues and reputation protection, before, during, and after a crisis.
We will need to wait on the next chapter of the Uber story following the appeal to see if Friday 13 proves to be lucky or unlucky for Uber. In any event, if you don’t want false information about you or your company in the public domain then you are strongly advised to try to correct it.
Fiona McAllister is an Associate in the Reputation Team and a dual qualified solicitor in Scotland and England & Wales.