Uber welcomes ruling that minicab-hailing app is lawful
Uber has welcomed a ruling that its minicab-hailing app is lawful, saying the decision is "great news for Londoners and a victory for common sense".
A High Court judge rejected accusations from the black cab trade that the smartphone app constituted a fare calculation meter reserved for use in vehicles used by licensed cabbies.
Mr Justice Ouseley, sitting in London, ruled Uber apps did not constitute taximeters and there was nothing to prevent minicab drivers and their customers enjoying "any improvement which technology might bring in the speed and accuracy of their fare calculations".
Jo Bertram, regional general manager for Uber in the UK, Ireland and the Nordics, said: "This is great news for Londoners and a victory for common sense."
But the groundbreaking ruling foreshadows other battles looming in London over the Uber phenomenon, which has caused controversy and triggered legal battles in many of the world's major cities.
Uber is opposing separate proposals to tighten private hire regulation in the capital following Transport for London's launch of a consultation on a series of measures that would affect minicab drivers.
London Mayor Boris Johnson welcomed today's court ruling and declared himself "a strong supporter of new technology".
But his spokesman added there were "huge challenges for the taxi and private hire trades, as well as legitimate concerns over increased vehicle emissions and congestion".
He said that was why Mr Johnson was lobbying the Government "to give TfL the power to cap the numbers that can operate in our city".
Government figures show the number of minicabs in the capital has risen by over a quarter (26%) in the past two years, to 62,800.
The mayor's spokesman also said TfL had commissioned "a broad based consultation to seek views about how we ensure we have regulations that are fit for the 21st century".
Proposals include the introduction of an interval of at least five minutes between a booking and the start of a journey, to allow drivers to plan an appropriate route.
Other proposals involve a requirement for drivers to pass an English language test and a map reading assessment, while firms might have to operate a fixed landline telephone and accept bookings up to seven days in advance.
Urging TfL to reconsider, Mr Bertram said on behalf of Uber: "Now the High Court has ruled in favour of new technology, we hope Transport for London will think again on their bureaucratic proposals for apps like Uber.
"Compulsory five-minute waits and banning ride-sharing would be bad for riders and drivers. These plans make no sense. That's why 130,000 people have already signed our petition against these proposals.
"We hope TfL will listen to Londoners and let Uber keep London moving."
Leon Daniels, TfL's managing director of surface transport, said: "With legal certainty established over taximeters, we will continue to work hard with all of our stakeholders to deliver taxi and private hire services which meet the needs of modern London.
"Disruptive technology and new business models have radically changed the way that taxi and private hire services operate and has widened customer choice. This is welcome. At the same time, as the regulator, we must ensure that regulatory requirements are met and are developed in a way that delivers the high standards customers deserve.
"As part of this, we are gauging public opinion on a range of potential changes to private hire regulations, including stricter rules on insurance and English language skills.
"We know that some ideas put forward for consultation are controversial, which is why we want as many people as possible to tell us what they think to help shape the future of private hire in London."
Some of London's cab drivers have hit out at today's ruling.
Keith Pauline, a London black cab driver from Enfield, criticised the High Court ruling, adding: " Once again the taxi trade, I'm afraid to say, has been shafted - by big business, by TfL and by the Government.
"We are quite capable of providing the public with a very good service if we are left with our own devices. As this ruling has now come about I think we should be given the chance to do it ourselves and wave goodbye to TfL."
He said some drivers of black cabs had the Uber app, and called for fellow drivers to unite against the ruling. "This is the one time when the whole of the trade must come together. There's a lot of apathy between us, because we're individuals we're out there all chasing the same £1 coin. Well, we've all got to come together on this."
The 60-year-old added that he would not consider working with the firm in the future. "They are rivals and I'm not going to work with a rival ... certainly not on this playing field because it's not level. I can understand the public wanting choice, that's fair enough, but let's have it fair," he said.
London cab driver Paul Gibson also opposed the decision, branding it "unfair". The 47-year-old said: "It's an unfair ruling - we all know it's a hailing app, just in a different disguise. It's going to slaughter us."
"We're insured, we have to have our cabs MOT'd twice a year, we have to have checks every three years - criminal checks. We abide by the law, why can't they?"