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How 800,000 people are trying to save Uber in London

A woman in London uses the ride-hailing app Uber on Sep. 22. (Daniel Leal Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — Sorry, Uber says, we took a wrong turn.

London transit authorities announced last week that they were revoking Uber’s license to operate in one of its biggest and best markets, yanking the popular ride-hailing service off the roads because it wasn't a “fit and proper” private car-hire operator.

At first, Uber was defiant, and its top London executive essentially called the city a bad place for a high-tech company to do business.

By Monday, cooler heads were working the problem. Uber's new global chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, said he accepted that Uber had to do better.

Meanwhile, an online petition in support of keeping Uber drivers on London's streets has garnered almost 800,000 signatures, putting the city's mayor, Sadiq Khan, in a tight spot with his constituents.

In an open letter published in the Standard newspaper, Khosrowshahi said, “While Uber has revolutionized the way people move in cities around the world, it’s equally true that we’ve got things wrong along the way. On behalf of everyone at Uber globally, I apologize for the mistakes we’ve made.”

The chief executive said Uber would appeal the decision to revoke its license “on behalf of millions of Londoners, but we do so with the knowledge that we must also change.”

London is one of Uber’s top markets, and the app does especially well here, where it costs about half as much to ride in an Uber than in one of London’s iconic boxy black cabs.

The ubiquitous car service has experienced explosive growth in sprawling London, where an estimated 40,000 Uber drivers prowl the streets waiting for hails from the 3.5 million residents who have downloaded the app.

If Uber loses London, it is in trouble.

Transport for London, the governing authority for taxis and private-car hires, said it rejected Uber's application to renew its license because “Uber’s approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility,” including not reporting serious criminal offenses by its drivers to police, failure to conduct thorough background checks and issues with how it obtains medical certificates for the drivers.

“As Uber’s new CEO, it is my job to help Uber write its next chapter,” wrote Khosrowshahi, a former chief executive of the online travel company Expedia. He replaced Uber’s freewheeling co-founder Travis Kalanick, who was ousted by the company’s board of directors last month.

Kalanick sought to turn Uber into the Amazon of the transportation industry. He was also seen as reckless — in part based on “accusations of sexism that compound years of indications that an unchecked, hyper-alpha culture made Uber an uncomfortable place for many women to work,” USA Today reported.

In London on Monday, Khan, who heads the transit authority, told BBC Radio, “I appreciate that Uber has an army of PR experts, an army of lawyers. They’ve also made aggressive threats about taking us to court.”

He added: “I’m quite clear in my mind that London should be a place for new technology, a place were new companies set up, but they’ve got to play by the rules. If you play by the rules, you’re welcome in London. If you don’t, don’t be surprised if [we] take action against you.”