Uber is legal, says High Court

The minicab hailing app won a victory today, but its battles aren't over.

by Rachel Savage
Last Updated: 10 Feb 2016

Good news for disruptors and Londoners: Uber has won a victory today, after the High Court ruled that the app does not function as a taxi meter and is therefore legal.

Mr Justice Ousley said that the app Uber’s drivers use is not a meter, as it sends journey time and distance back to the start-up’s servers in California. The fare is then calculated there and charged to the passenger’s credit card. He also decided that it is Uber drivers rather than their cars that are ‘equipped’ with the app.

Only black cabs are allowed to use meters and the cabbies union, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, and the Licensed Private Hire Car Association had vociferously argued that Uber was breaking the law. The LTDA was simultaneously enraged and baffled by the judgment.

— The LTDA (@TheLTDA) October 16, 2015

Minicab company Addison Lee was also unimpressed. ‘This is a sad day for London,’ chief executive Andy Bolan said. ‘This judgement 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.’ (Maybe he missed the memo that Uber estimates the fare before you order a car?)

Uber’s UK general manager Jo Bertram said the ruling was ‘great news for Londoners and a victory for common sense’ (and presumably it'll make challenges from taxi drivers in other cities Uber operates in, which include Birmingham and Leeds less likely). But she took the opportunity to remind everyone that it was now facing a battle over proposed new regulations that TfL (which was on Uber’s side in the is-it-a-meter fight) is consulting on.

‘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,’ she said. ‘That's why 130,000 people have already signed our petition against these proposals.’

Uber may also face other curbs on its growth. In a statement in response to the High Court ruling, TfL pointed out the number of private hire drivers in London had risen from 59,000 in 2009/10 to more than 89,000 and was on course to rise to 128,000 in the new two years.

‘The Mayor has recently renewed his call to Government to give TfL powers to cap the number of private hire vehicles in London to address rising traffic congestion and illegal parking and to help improve air quality,’ it noted. Even Uber will struggle to argue against protecting Londoners’ lungs.

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