Cabbies may launch Supreme Court appeal against Uber app

Black taxi cab sign

Uber's taxi-hailing app was ruled to be legal today by the High Court despite cab drivers arguing it should be classed as a fare-counting meter.

Taximeters are illegal for privately-hired vehicles, and Transport for London (TfL) asked the court to decide on whether or not the app, which calculates fares using GPS as well as external servers, should be defined as such.

However, Judge Justice Ouseley ruled that the app does not calculate fares in the same way as taximeters, adding that it is drivers, not their vehicles, who are equipped with smartphones.

The Licensed Taxi Driver Association (LTDA) is now considering an appeal to the Supreme Court, with general secretary Steve McNamara calling the High Court's decision "madness".

He added: "This is such a ludicrous decision that we are considering an appeal to the Supreme Court as a matter of urgency [where] we can find a judge with a common sense solution to a very simplistic question.

"Does the Uber smartphone calculate the fare by a combination of time and distance? There can be only one answer, and any judgement that declares otherwise is flawed and wrong."

The LTDA also complained that TfL allegedly spoke in support of Uber during the hearing, though TfL stressed to IT Pro that its position remains neutral, saying there was "significant public interest" on getting legal clarity over the classification of Uber's app.

In a statement, TfL's MD of surface transport, Leon Daniels, added: "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."

An Uber spokesman welcomed the High Court's decision, saying: "This was not a marginal call; it is quite emphatic. In fact, it is contemptuous of the case brought before it.

"Uber will continue going about our business and making sure customers have choice."

Mayor of London reaction

The news will also be a blow to Boris Johnson, who has spoken out against Uber in defence of the capital's black cab drivers.

Writing in the Telegraph earlier this month, he claimed Uber's model of hailing a taxi via its app breaks laws saying minicabs may not 'ply for hire'.

But a spokesman for the Mayor of London told IT Pro that Johnson respects the court's ruling.

He added: "The Mayor is a strong supporter of new technology and he recognises that innovation is embraced by Londoners. However, there are huge challenges for the taxi and private hire trades, as well as legitimate concerns over increased vehicle emissions and congestion.

"That is why he is lobbying the government to give TfL the power to cap the numbers that can operate in our city."

The decision comes as TfL consults on proposed changes to private hire regulations designed to cope with the rise of the likes of Uber and Hailo, such as operators providing drivers' photo IDs and vehicle details to customers who have booked a taxi, a compulsory five-minute wait between a booking and pick-up and English language tests.

TfL's Daniels said: "The consultation is absolutely not about seeking to limit customer choice. It is about ensuring higher standards, public safety, and ensuring we have effective measures to tackle pollution and congestion in a modern, growing city."‎

It has so far received 4,000 responses and ends on 23 December, while 130,000 people have signed a petition against it.

Edit to add:

Uber's Jo Bertram, regional mananger for the UK and Ireland, said the company's favourable High Court ruling should push TfL to change its mind about its proposed changes.

She told IT Pro: "This is great news for Londoners and a victory for common sense. 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."