In a significant victory for Uber over London's black cab and minicab drivers, the High Court has ruled that the fact that mobile phones are used to calculate taxi fares does not imply that Uber cars are metered for the purposes of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998 (PHVLA). The proceedings were brought by Transport of London (TfL) under pressure from black cab and minicab drivers who have claimed that Uber obtains an unfair advantage in not being required to meet the same regulatory requirements which are imposed on them.
Section 11 of the PHVLA prohibits private hire vehicles (which are distinct from black cabs and minicabs and subject to less stringent regulation) from being equipped with taximeters. A taximeter is “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)”. The court ruled that a mobile phone running the Uber app would not constitute a taximeter because such term 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. The mobile phone is not a device for calculating fares, the court held.
Uber has welcomed the judgment. For its part, TfL has stated that it has never been of the view that mobile phones are taximeters, but pursued the action in the interests of legal certainty. It intends to pursue its consultation on taxi apps which, among other things, suggests imposing a minimum interval of five minutes between booking a taxi and commencing a journey and requiring drivers to pass an English language test and map reading assessment. TfL is concerned that the rapid expansion of apps like Uber – and the corresponding increase of cars on London’s roads – could have significant effects on congestion, air quality and the amount of illegal parking.
An appeal has been lodged by the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, although TfL intends not to appeal.