London Transport Asks Court to Rule on Uber's Use of Phones

Uber Fights Back Against New Regulations in London
  • Transport for London asks for judicial review in Uber dispute
  • TFL seeks clarity on use of smartphones as taxi meters

London transportation officials asked judges to review whether the use of smartphones by Uber drivers is the equivalent of taxi meters, another sign of the challenges faced by the car service’s expansion plan in major cities around the world.

Transport for London filed the claim this week against Uber Technologies Inc., according to court records. A spokesman at TFL confirmed the filing and said the lawsuit was in connection with how the smartphone technology should be viewed. A hearing on the case is scheduled for Monday.

“We believe the Uber app on a partner’s phone is not a taximeter, and TfL -- the regulator -- shares this view," a spokesman for Uber said in an e-mail. “We are looking forward to getting binding clarity on this issue in the high court. However, the outcome of the case would not affect Uber’s license in London, or its ability to operate here."

Uber is fighting legal battles on fronts across the globe as traditional taxi drivers say they are bound by rules that don’t apply to the smartphone-based system. London cabbies -- who require years of training to pass a licensing test -- have clogged roads and threatened criminal complaints against four Uber drivers.

The lawsuit, which comes days after TFL proposed a number of new rules taxis services, caps a difficult week for Uber in the U.K. capital. The transport agency proposed on Sept. 30 that drivers of private-hire minicabs face English-language and navigational tests, stricter insurance requirements and limits on bookings. The recommendations are part of a review of so-called minicab regulation that will last 12 weeks.

Technology has "significantly changed the way that the taxi and private hire industries operate," Leon Daniels, TfL’s managing director of surface transport, said in a statement. "It is in everyone’s interest to bring legal clarity to the issue of taximeters and to review the current regulations that were written well before smartphones were invented."

Uber had planned to file the claim to clarify rules for what constitutes a regulated taxi service last year, but was held up as a London union for local taxi drivers pursued private prosecutions against an individual driver.

A German court ordered the company to stop its ride-hailing service in the country for profit on March 18. Uber has sought the European Union’s help to break down barriers and filed a complaint against Spanish legislation March 30 after it had already lodged actions in Germany and France.

The case is Transport for London v. Uber, High Court of Justice, Queen’s Bench Division, Administrative Court, Case No. CO/1449/2015

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