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17/10/2015

High Court rules in favour of Uber in taximeter case

Subject: Transport of passengers – hackney carriages and private hire vehicles

Source: British and Irish Legal Information Institute (BAILII)

Transport for London v  Uber London Limited and others

[2015] EWHC 2918 (Admin)

The High Court has ruled that a taximeter as defined in the Private Hire Vehicles (London) 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.

The ruling was made following an application brought by Transport for London (TfL) for a ‘declaration’ on whether such a device contravenes s.11 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 which makes it an offence to use a licensed private hire vehicle equipped with a taximeter. This application was prompted by the claim made by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (representing drivers of London black taxi cabs) and the Licensed Private Hire Car Association (representing private hire vehicle operators) that the device used by drivers using the ‘Uber’ application and operated by Uber London Limited (Uber) amounted to a taximeter which in London may only be used by licensed ‘hackney carriages’ i.e. London black taxi cabs.

Legal background

The Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 was introduced in order to regulate private hire vehicles (PHV) vehicle operators and drivers within London. Prior to that Act, PHV operators and drivers were regulated in the UK only outside London.

In general, only licensed ‘hackney carriages’ i.e. taxis may ‘ply for hire’ and accept passengers when hailed in the street and wait for hire in official cab rank. PHVs may not ply for hire and may only accept pre-arranged bookings. In London, the legislation makes an additional distinction between taxis and PHVs by making it an offence for a PHV owner to use a vehicle equipped with a taximeter. A taximeter is defined as a device for calculating the fare to be charged in respect of any journey by reference to the distance travelled or time elapsed since the start of the journey (or a combination of both).

Uber has been licensed by TfL as a PHV operator since May 2012. The vehicles operating within the Uber network include licensed black taxi cabs as well as PHVs. Uber. The booking and customer billing process involves the customer using the Customer App and the Driver using the Driver App on their smartphone.

The judge had no difficulty in deciding that the Uber system does not involve a PHV driver using a vehicle’ equipped with a taximeter’, because the combination of the Smartphone App, the input by the driver of time and distance and the connection of the data to Uber’s servers in the USA did not fall within the definition of a taximeter, and even if it did, the vehicle is not ‘equipped’ with it, because the App is installed on a smartphone carried by the driver.

[Original text of the case report supplied by BAILII gratefully acknowledged. Crown copyright: contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0
Legaleze is solely responsible for the above text which is a summary only and the full report should be read.]

Comment

Since the launch of its car ride service in 2009 in San Francisco based on an app connecting car drivers and passengers, Uber has undergone a phenomenal worldwide expansion. It has encountered significant regulatory objections and opposition from the taxi trade in many cities. Uber launched its service in London in July 2012. Although its service is open to both licensed black cab drivers and PHV drivers, the London trade has objected strongly to the Uber business model. TfL nevertheless accepted Uber's application to become a licensed PHV operator in London. In early 2015, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association initiated a private prosecution against Uber for breach of the taximeter rule. As a result, TfL decided that the better way to resolve the issue was to refer the issue to the Administrative Court for a ruling, with the agreement of the other parties.

In many cities, Uber has faced strong objection from the established taxi trade, sometimes provoking violent incidents, and there has been criticism that the Uber business model creates unfair competition to the taxi trade, and employes drivers who are underpaid and do not possess appropriate knowledge and skills. Other criticisms of the Uber business model are that it has caused an unacceptable growth in vehicle congestion, and the Uber "surge" pricing policy which causes the prices to rise for brief periods in times of high demand.

In the meantime, TfL is carrying out a consultation as part of a wide-ranging review of the regulation of PHV operation in London. This follows detailed proposals for legislative reform made by the Law Commission for England and Wales. See Transport of passengers – hackney carriages and private hire vehicles (taxis, minicabs) for more information.

Sources: LTDA, wikipedia

 

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