Uber lovers can breathe a sigh of relief this morning, after the High Court ruled that the ride-hailing app isn’t breaking the law.
Uber welcomed today's ruling as "great news" for Londoners and a "victory for common sense". It marks the latest stage in a drawn-out battle between Uber and rival black cab drivers, which had seen Transport for London seek clarification from the High Court over the legality of Uber's operation.
High Court judges were asked to decide whether the app is considered a taximeter - which is only allowed to be used in London’s traditional black cabs.
Arguing that the way Uber calculates fares on smartphones is technically "metering", infuriated black cab drivers consider the company’s behaviour illegal.
But the High Court has disagreed, with Mr Justice Ouseley taking Uber’s side, stating that the app operates differently from black cab taximeters:
A taximeter, for the purposes of Section 11 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, is not a device which receives GPS signals in the course of a journey, and forwards GPS data to a server located outside of the vehicle, which 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.
Uber’s meteoric rise to popularity in the past couple of years has caused no end of bad blood between the ride-sharing app and rival taxi drivers, as the car hire industry is increasingly disrupted by the newcomer.
Private car firms Addison Lee and Kabbee both expressed disappointment over the ruling, but none more than the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, who said they have lodged an appeal to the Supreme Court, and added on Twitter:
The law really is an Ass! It uses time & distance to calculate fare and it's not a meter????— The LTDA (@TheLTDA) October 16, 2015
TfL, Uber, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association and the Licensed Private Hire Car Association had asked the High Court to clarify the legal position on the app.
Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport at TfL, welcomed the ruling:
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.
Despite passing this legal hurdle, Uber still faces more trouble ahead. TfL has proposed new regulations that would work against its UK business, including a ban on showing the availability of nearby cars and a requirement that riders have to wait at least five minutes to be picked up, even if there is a car nearby.
Unsurprisingly, polls have found Londoners aren’t particularly enthused about either of these suggestions, and over 130,000 people have signed a petition against them.
"It's clear Londoners overwhelmingly oppose TfL's proposals," said Uber UK manager Jo Bertram. "Over one million people in the capital use our service, but these plans would change the Uber Londoners know and love today.
"We understand black cab drivers are feeling the pressure from more competition. But the answer is to level the playing field by reducing today’s burdensome black cab regulations," she added.
TfL's Leon Daniels stressed to City A.M. that these proposals form the part of an "open consultation" on the future of private hire:
We very much welcome everyone's point of view on it. The more view we get in the easier it'll be to assess what the city needs.