FOI request detail

copy of all correspondence involving Commissioner Mike Brown, Helen Chapman, and/or Uber

Request ID: FOI-2326-1718
Date published: 05 December 2017

You asked

I would therefore like to narrow my request to the following: Please provide a copy of all correspondence and documentation between October 3rd and October 7th and again from October 30th until November 17th involving Commissioner Mike Brown, Helen Chapman, and/or Uber regarding the firm’s licence renewal in London.

We answered

TfL Ref: FOI-2326-1718

Thank you for your request received by Transport for London (TfL) on 17 November 2017 asking for correspondence and documentation regarding Uber’s licence renewal.

However, the requested information is exempt from disclosure under s31(1)(c) of the FOI Act which applies where disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice the administration of justice. In addition, to the extent that some of the information is held in connection with ongoing investigations by TfL in its role as regulator, we consider that s31(2)(c) applies where disclosure would be likely to prejudice “the purpose of ascertaining whether circumstances which would justify regulatory action in pursuance of any enactment exist or may arise”.

We consider disclosure would be likely to cause prejudice to the administration of justice in two ways. The first way that we consider prejudice would be likely to be caused is through the effect that disclosure will have on the effective operation of the appeal process. The court are considering an appeal, and will hold a directions hearing, at which the court may be asked to consider whether any of the hearing should be considered in private rather than in open court, and whether there should be any restrictions on reporting. Their decision would be pre-empted, and could be prejudiced by disclosure of the letter of 22 September and supporting materials.

Secondly, disclosure would be likely to cause an increase in the number of enquiries and, potentially, legal submissions from third parties who are not directly involved in the decision whether to grant Uber an operators licence. The licensing decision is the subject of an appeal to the courts, which will require significant specialist resources from TfL’s Legal and Taxi and Private Hire functions. Although a summary of the licensing decision has been made public, the appeal will be heard through the courts, in accordance with a structured and scheduled process that will allow adequate time for both sides to prepare and submit their arguments and evidence in accordance with court rules. The disclosure of detailed information about the licensing decision whilst that licensing decision is being challenged in the courts will inevitably require the diversion of these specialist resources to provide answers to the inevitable follow up questions from third parties at the very time their efforts are most required for the purposes of the court hearing.

In both cases TfL recognises that there is a significant amount of interest from the public in the outcome of the Uber licensing decision and the subsequent appeal. Such decisions potentially affect the livelihoods and choices of many people who live and work in London, and as a public authority with a regulatory role, TfL expects its decision making to be transparent and open to scrutiny. Although there is considerable interest in this decision, not least from the media, it should be borne in mind that this is a regulatory decision involving a private company, and the appropriate way to determine what information should be considered in public should rest with the courts. Since the appeal has now been lodged with the courts, we consider that the public interest supports the application of the exemption during the court’s consideration of the appeal.

Ongoing investigations require the free flow of information, which would almost certainly be restricted if information about the investigation were made public before its conclusion. This information is protected from disclosure under s31(2)(c). Disclosure in these circumstances would also be likely to prejudice future investigations in a similar way as the investigated party would be less likely to cooperate if a running commentary were to be given through FOI disclosures. Effective working between the trade and the regulator relies on a safe space where information can be shared at a sufficiently early stage, which may avoid the need for formal enforcement action. Even if enforcement action is required, the relatively free exchange of information is useful to all parties.

There are benefits to the public as it enables greater oversight of private hire operators and better scrutiny by the regulator. TfL benefit because proactive discussion avoids costly enforcement activity, delayed access to information and increased bureaucracy. Finally, the taxi and private hire trade benefit from being able to share information in confidence because it allows them to provide full answers to regulatory matters whilst protecting their commercial interests.

There are public interest arguments in favour of disclosure. We recognise that there is a public interest in understanding the scope of regulatory activity, and whether concerns are being sufficiently addressed, as well as a curiosity about the specific information exchanged. A number of parties are interested in the effective regulation of Private Hire Operators, including the travelling public, the Taxi and Private Hire trade and the drivers themselves.

Whilst there is some public interest in disclosure, the balance of the public interest supports maintenance of the exemption in order to enable the effective and timely sharing of information between TfL and the taxi and private hire trade. There is also a public interest in preserving TfL’s ability‎ to act as an effective regulator (through the sharing of information), which ensures that the services offered by the trade are safe and compliant.

Please see the attached information sheet for details of your right to appeal.

Yours sincerely

Lee Hill

Senior FOI Case Officer

FOI Case Management Team

General Counsel

Transport for London

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