Uber taxi app legal in London, UK high court rules

© Kai Pfaffenbach
Taxi firm Uber has been given the green light to operate in London after the High Court ruled its app is legal in the capital.

The California-based tech firm has come under fire from traditional black-cab drivers in London, who claim the Uber app is being used a taximeter. Under UK law, only black-cab drivers are able to use taximeters.

The city’s transport regulatory, Transport for London (TfL), brought the case to court after coming under pressure from black-cab and minicab drivers.

Britain’s High Court ruled on Friday that the Uber app is “not a device for calculating fares by itself or in conjunction with [a server], and even if it were, the vehicle is not equipped with [that function].”

Lord Justice Ousley based his ruling on the legal definition of 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 traveled and time taken and sends the fare information back to the device,” he said.

Uber welcomed the ruling as a victory for passengers in the city.

“Now the High Court has ruled in favor 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.

“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.”

Earlier this month London Mayor Boris Johnson said the app was “systematically” breaking the law, but admitted it would be “nuts” to ban it.

“The law says that only black cabs may stand or ply for hire in the streets, and only black cabs can be hailed in the streets. Parliament has been very precise,” Johnson said.

“A minicab may not rank up, a minicab may not ply for hire – cruise in search of passengers – and a minicab may not be hailed in the street. Indeed, a minicab must be booked through a third party, a licensee or booking agency.

“You only have to consider the habits of many Uber minicabs – not all, but many – to see that this law is systematically broken.”

TfL Managing Director of Surface Transport Leon Daniels said the organization would work with all “stakeholders” now the legal position of Uber has been clarified.

“With legal certainty established over taximeters, we will continue to work hard with all of our stakeholders to deliver taxi and private hire services which meet the needs of modern London.

“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.

“As part of this, we are gauging public opinion on a range of potential changes to private hire regulations, including stricter rules on insurance and English language skills. We know that some ideas put forward for consultation are controversial, which is why we want as many people as possible to tell us what they think to help shape the future of private hire in London,” he added.