Uber wins court ruling over London charging
Transport for London had alleged that company's app acted as a taxi meter
Uber has scored a legal victory against Transport for London over its operations in the capital, in a development that it hopes will head off a looming regulatory clampdown.
The high court today rejected claims from the transport regulator that Uber's app constituted a "taximeter". This charging mechanism is by law granted exclusively to black cabs, in return for them meeting onerous restrictions and passing expensive tests to prove knowledge of London geography.
But Lord Justice Ouseley ruled that Uber’s mobile service does not meet the definition for a taximeter given in the Private Hire Vehicles Act 1998, The Guardian reports. He said this is because its app sends GPS information to a server based outside the vehicle to calculate the price for a journey.
Uber described the decision as a "victory for common sense". It also went on the offensive over a wider proposed clampdown by TfL, which has published draft plans to, among other things, impose a five-minute wait on anyone hailing a driver through the Uber app. This would help to retain a competitive advantage for black cabs that can be waved down in the street.
Senior figures in the Conservative party are at odds over the proposals, with outgoing London mayor Boris Johnson voicing strong support and business secretary Sajid Javid branding them "heavy handed" (see below).
The court ruling comes as Uber, which is engaged in a number of legal battles around the world, embarks on its next stage of UK expansion. "Hundreds" of drivers are signed up to begin offering rides in Glasgow, The Scotsman reports, as the company launches its first foray north of the border.
The company said yesterday "it hopes to begin the service in Edinburgh within the next two months and planned to expand to other major Scottish cities including Aberdeen during 2016".
Uber: Sajid Javid sets up battle with Boris over crackdown
Sajid Javid, the Business Secretary, has set the stage for the latest battle between senior figures in the cabinet and London mayor Boris Johnson over a looming clampdown on controversial ride-hailing service Uber.
Giving evidence to MPs at a select committee hearing, Javid made clear he did not support proposals from Transport for London to restrict the way Uber operates.
Javid said tougher regulation of Uber would have a "dramatic detrimental impact" on customers seeking lower fares, the Financial Times reports. "I'm not interested in heavy-handed regulation, I want to make sure that consumers are put first."
The comments align the business secretary with hundreds of thousands of London commuters who have signed a petition against the new rules. Among them is a measure that would require consumers to wait a minimum of five minutes after 'hailing' an Uber cab through its smartphone app.
But his intervention also risks a run-in with Johnson, who is likely to run for the Conservative leadership when David Cameron steps down. In an article for the Daily Telegraph less than two weeks' ago, the outgoing London mayor reiterated his support for the TfL plans, saying the Uber app allows the law to be "systematically broken – or at least circumvented".
He says only black cabs have to "conform to onerous specifications, including a tight turning circle and wheelchair access", while drivers are required to "have passed 'the Knowledge' – an exacting test about London’s geography". In return they have the unique privilege of being allowed to "ply for hire in the streets", which Uber's app effectively allows minicab drivers to replicate.
"We could simply deregulate on both sides. We could allow minicabs to be legally hailed in the street… and we could level the playing field by removing the costly burdens on black cabs," he said. This, though, would mean the "effective end of the black cab trade" that many people, especially those without smartphones, still "greatly value".
Johnson has become a political irritation to Cameron's government on several issues. He has repeatedly criticised plans to build a new runway at Heathrow, which the cabinet is likely to endorse, and hit out at Tory tax credit cuts at the party conference this month.
Uber allies rally behind taxi-hailing service
The backlash against proposed regulations threatening to restrict the taxi-hailing service Uber gathered pace today, as a petition against the proposals gained 100,000 signatures.
While Transport for London (TfL) says the consultation seeks to "raise standards across the industry", many have seen it as a "crude attempt" to limit new online ride-sharing companies and appease London's black cab drivers, said The Guardian.
Uber claims it is being deliberately targeted and that a consultation on private hire regulation could "spell an end to the way the taxi-hailing app operates", by raising prices and increasing congestion in London.
The plans include a mandatory five-minute waiting time, English language tests and a ban on drivers working for more than one operator.
Among the critics is Simon Walker, the director general of the Institute of Directors, who said that the Mayor of London Boris Johnson should be reducing regulation in the capital's taxi hire market rather than bringing in new and stiffer rules.
He went on to call the measures "backwards and heavy handed", saying they would "damage London's reputation for innovation".
There have been calls from taxi drivers and politicians to protect black cabs from the explosive growth of Uber over the past three years, which critics say has benefited from operating under a lax regulatory system.
The announcement comes during a difficult week for Uber after Dutch police raided its Amsterdam office as part of a criminal investigation, and yesterday two of its executives appeared in a Paris court.
Many who have signed the petition question why the public should suffer to prop up an outdated and heavily subsidised black cab culture. There are also those who question the reasons behind the consultation, claiming that the new regulations will make taxi-hailing less safe.
"There is no way to justify [TfL's] crackdown of a service millions find useful, convenient and safe," said Rachael Cunliffe in The Spectator.
"Unless of course your target audience isn't the average Londoner, but black cab drivers and minicab companies. Then your actions make perfect sense."
Uber faces massive crackdown in London
Uber is facing a regulations crackdown in the capital, according to leaked Transport for London paperwork.
The documents, seen by the Daily Telegraph, reveal that a TfL consultation is proposing strict new rules that would ban some of the minicab app's most defining features.
The plans include a new minimum five-minute wait time between ordering a private hire vehicle and its arrival. TfL is also proposing to ban operators from showing cars for hire within a smartphone app, which is the key plank of Uber's service.
The proposals, in documents marked "Private and confidential", are expected to be officially announced within days. TfL is expected to say its plans are "in the interests of public safety and an effective and up-to-date regulatory system".
But Uber has already attacked the proposals. "These bureaucratic new rules will not improve your ride," said Jo Bertram, the firm's general manager for the UK, Ireland and Nordics. "They're designed to address the concerns of black cab drivers, who feel under pressure from increased competition."
Uber has proven to be a hugely controversial service around the world, not least in London, where it has more than 15,000 drivers. The capital's black cabbies have held anti-Uber protests in the West End, gridlocking the roads.
London mayor Boris Johnson has defended the company, telling black cab drivers: "You are dealing with a huge economic force which is consumer choice and the taxi trade needs to recognise that."
Regulators have already clamped down in other countries. The company's UberPOP service was scrapped in France and it has been banned in Belgium pending appeal.
Uber: France's top court upholds ban
France's top court has upheld a ban on a cheap service that uses unqualified drivers offered by ride-hailing company Uber, dealing a blow to the company's strategy in Europe.
Uber, an upstart company that has grown aggressively into 270 countries and is valued at $50bn, had challenged the legality of the ban on its UberPop app and of a law that precludes any service using unlicensed drivers, the Financial Times reports. The legislation was introduced in June – and Uber itself suspended the app in July amid fierce and often violent protests.
Courts in Italy, Spain and Germany have also already outlawed UberPop, "siding with taxi companies that argued that the service did not conform with local transportation rules", reports Reuters. "Further legal challenges are pending in the Netherlands and Belgium."
Uber will now rely on the services that continue to operate across Europe, which are more expensive than UberPop – although often still cheaper than traditional alternatives – and which use qualified drivers.
The New York Times notes the company had based part of its objection on the fact that it felt the wording of the new law would "also made ride-sharing illegal". The court said it did not believe that the law affected car-sharing, which remains a legal practice.
This is in one respect good news for Uber, which the Times separately notes has launched a trial of a new car-pooling app in China. "The service, called UberCommute, gives Chinese car owners who drive long distances — most likely drivers heading to and from work — the option of picking up passengers going in the same direction... [to] share the cost of the trip." Uber plans to introduce the service "globally over time".
The case has other ramifications, not least for the pending criminal case against two Uber executives in France, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, Uber's general manager in western Europe, and Thibaud Simphal, head of the company's operations in France. The FT says that "if the court had ruled in Uber's favour, it would have eliminated more than half the charges faced by the pair".
Uber is still facing a range of other legal actions in Europe and elsewhere on issues such as its classification of drivers as freelancers and not direct employees.