Uber wins high court case over taxi app

The taxi-booking service Uber has received a boost after the high court ruled that its app was legal in London. Had it lost the case, the company would have been forced to change its service to comply with rules that protect black cab drivers, according to The Guardian.

The transport regulator Transport for London (TfL) had brought the case after pressure from the city’s black cab and minicab drivers, who claimed that the Uber app was being used as a “taximeter”. The taximeter is a privilege afforded only to black cab drivers in return for the extensive training they undergo to learn London’s streets.

But Lord Justice Ouseley ruled that Uber’s mobile service did not constitute a taximeter. “A taximeter‎, for the purposes of section 11 of the Private Hire Vehicles Act 1998, does not include a device that receives GPS signals in the course of a journey, and forwards GPS data to a server located outside of the vehicle, which server calculates a fare that is partially or wholly determined by reference to distance travelled and time taken and sends the fare information back to the device,” his written judgment said.

Uber described the ruling as a victory for common sense and took aim at plans by TfL to impose new regulations on the company. “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,” said Jo Bertram, Uber’s regional general manager for UK, Ireland and the Nordics.

About 1 million people have signed up to the service in London, where it has 18,000 drivers.

TfL said its view had always been that smartphones were not taximeters, but there was significant public interest in establishing legal certainty. The TfL consultation on taxi apps includes the proposal of an interval of at least five minutes between booking an Uber journey and the driver picking up the passenger, in an attempt to stop instantaneous bookings.

TfL said it would continue with its consultation, which aims to address the rapid growth in the number of private-hire cars on the roads. The number of drivers of such cars is set to reach 128,000 over the next two years, twice the figure in 2010, causing concern about congestion, illegal parking and air quality.

The chief executive of Addison Lee, the biggest minicab firm in London, said the ruling was disappointing. “This is a sad day for London,” Andy Boland said. “This judgment opens the door to a return to the bad old days of cabs charging what they like and the passenger not knowing what the fare is until it is too late.”

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association said it had lodged an immediate appeal against the ruling in the supreme court. However, TfL said it would not appeal. 

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