A woman poses holding a smartphone showing the App for ride-sharing cab service Uber in London on September 22, 2017. (AFP/Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)
LONDON, Sept. 23 (Xinhua) -- More than half a million people signed an online petition in less than 24 hours by Saturday afternoon backing Uber's fight to save its car operations in London, mirroring profound economic and political disagreements in Britain.
More than 515,000 people entered their names by 1200 GMT on Saturday in support of the U.S.-based company, which urged users to sign in order to keep its cars on London roads. Uber asked customers for help in its fight with London regulators.
The transport authorities in London on Friday announced its decision to strip Uber of its license from next week, citing its failure to report serious criminal offences, conduct sufficient background checks on drivers and other safety issues.
Uber, which boasts 40,000 drivers in London and claims that 3.5 million people use the service, plans to appeal against the decision by the Transport for London (TfL), which said the U.S.-based company's approach and conduct was "not fit and proper" to hold a private vehicle hire licence.
The decision was backed by the British capital's black-cab drivers and Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who said anger from Uber customers and drivers should be directed at the company.
However, deep contradictions can be seen in the confrontation, which is something new to people in Britain.
First, the rift shows contradictions between cheaper ride-hailing service and traditional black-cab operations in London.
The Uber service has become the darling of most Londoners, but in a city filled with well-known black cabs and minicab firms, there are plenty of alternatives out there.
"But in the bigger picture, this is a potentially defining confrontation between the demand for cheap services and the power of regulators," The Times newspaper said on its opinion page on Saturday.
In London, where the cost of housing means many people travel long distances to work unsocial hours for low pay, Uber's low fares and generally prompt service have been a lifeline.
To the Uber riders, the newspaper said, "TfL will look as if it bowed down to pressure from the capital's infamously protective black cabs."
Many Uber users have to rely on the app when public transport is out of reach in London.
"Before the arrival of Uber, Britain's taxi market was flabby and sclerotic," the major British newspaper said. "Black cabs overcharged for expertise that had been supplanted by satellite navigation technology while minicab firms made customers wait."
Second, the dispute demonstrates deep disagreements between key members of ruling and opposition parties in the country.
The Uber licence was revoked by the TfL, headed by Khan, a leading figure in the opposition Labor Party, who said on Friday that "all private-hire operators in London need to play by the rules. The safety and security of Londoners must come first."
However, The Times said, "the timing of the decision is undeniably suspect."
"Mr. Khan has just been told that he will be given a platform at the Labor Party conference and TfL's decision is sure to earn him a rousting endorsement from an audience of activists and trade unionists."
The TfL was immediately rebuked by Greg Hands, a Conservative Party politician and British minister for London.
Hands accused Khan of putting 40,000 people out of work and leaving 3.5 million users of Uber stranded "at the flick of a pen."
"A blanket ban will cause massive inconvenience to millions of Londoners, all the while showing that the mayor of London is closed to business and innovation," he said.
Despite the accusation of failing to take passenger safety as seriously as it should, Uber denied it posed a safety threat to riders and said it had always followed the rules.
The American company has three weeks to appeal, and until the case is resolved, it can continue operating.
Over the past years, the company has turned to its users in Jakarta, Budapest, Toronto and Portland for help in such a confrontation to sign petitions and build online tools to show local lawmakers their support.
Uber will not want to lose access to one of its most lucrative markets. The company and TfL should work together, and legal battles notwithstanding, to devise reforms that would make Uber compliant.