back to article Minicab-hailing app Uber is lawful – UK High Court

Uber's minicab-hailing app has been found lawful in the British High Court, following concerns over its alleged use as a taximeter, which is currently outlawed for private hire vehicles. The decision came after a request for clarity by UK local government body Transport for London (TfL), essentially asking the court rule on …

Surely consumer laws need a taximeter to justify the trips cost. They need to be verified that they are accurate etc. If the smartphone isn't doing this, then the server (probably in America) is and should therefore be checked by British standards officers.

Just as well we have a Safe Harbour agreement though, transmitting private users data across the pond, securely.

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Anonymous Coward

Not necessarily

Difference between a minicab/hackney carriage driven for metered fare and hailed to stop and a taxi where a fee or charging model can be agreed at booking.

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Or maybe we don't need to legislate this kind of antique common-sense stuff any more.

If Uber, as a service chosen by the customer, is misleading or defruading customers as to trip lengths / costs, then we sue them into oblivion like any other company doing the same thing.

Why does a taxi need a specific exemption here? This is about taximeters. Getting into a random cab that has a deliberately-dodgy taximeter, yes, that's a risk that could see customers have no way to prove otherwise and be subject to falsified or modified prices. The chances of the customer's own phone misrepresenting the distance they travelled? The chances of Uber mis-charging based on your one-mile journey as something other than a one-mile journey? No, it's not worth legislating. As such, the "taximeter" is in the user's hands and quite possibly Uber stand more chance of being defrauded than anyone else.

And let's be honest, the whole thing comes down historically to dodgy cabs, and is now brought up to try to support certain classes of taxis that are surpassed by an online service with random drivers.

This is a sour-grapes / outdated industry protection, nothing to do with customers being defrauded. This is about trying to find a legal loophole to stick Uber to the wall because it's making taxis obsolete. Two of my cousins are taxi drivers. They work hard and make money. But if you can't book a cab with a smartphone, can't find where to hail one, they won't go "sarf of the river", etc. then they are doing themselves no favours as an industry. That someone can rock up with an app that cuts into their income overnight means that they could have done the same. The laws to protect and licence the taxi profession are actually working AGAINST them here, because they are so inflexible. Rather than resolve that, they are trying to make everyone work by their rules, including these new usptarts that are taking money from them.

To be honest, I've used about 3-4 black taxis in my entire life. I've had them drive past me despite advertising their availability. I find them difficult to locate when you need one. They often refuse, even if they are not supposed to. Minicabs and other licensors are just the same and you aren't even legally allowed to hail one on the street. So the workaround is to "book" one immediately near your location and use it. It's booked. It turns up. It takes you where you want. You're given a price beforehand with proof, and they don't refuse once they arrive.

Black cabs are just having sour-grapes over their own monopoly protections working against them rather than for them, and Uber have a loophole that they can't defeat in court. To be honest, good. We need licensed cabs, certainly. Licencing is a necessary safety feature. Everything else about black-cabs, including special legal protection, stupidly overpriced vehicles that can only be maintained by their stupidly overpriced manufacturer, lack of combined apps, and in-car taximeters being the definitive pricing and having no idea what your journey will cost until you get there, all needs to be got rid of in the modern era.

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Cloudy Ponds

The relevancy of your personal journeys being beamed across the pond to an unsafe harbour is not a legal issue here. The more worrying concept is the point of law here that the more general case of the actual calculation was not done on a device in the mini-cab but 'somewhere outside/in the cloud'.

Given that for thirty years or more IT has been increasingly distributing computing stuff like that has gone from client to serverside back to clientside and even a combination of the two. Humanside should see no difference, the result of the calculation is no different. But here we are stuck on a point of law designed when the taximeter was all cogs and wheels.

Which is a problem when IT is moving at a rather faster pace than the law.

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"Or maybe we don't need to legislate this kind of antique common-sense stuff any more."

Well, maybe not specifically in the same way. The real problem with this type of business (and home delivery services suffer from a similar model) is if it seeks to substitute alleged self-employment for salaried staff in order to avoid minimum wage or other regulations. I don't know what Uber drivers typically make, only anecdotal data seems to be available, but I understand that a lot of "self-employed" delivery drivers would be lucky to break even if they followed all the rules.

Now, I don't pine for London taxi drivers who are often genuinely self-employed and whose earnings are notoriously opaque, but I do think we need some sort of regulation to ensure that any more "cost efficient" service isn't simply gouging the driver rather than the passenger.

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"it seeks to substitute alleged self-employment for salaried staff in order to avoid minimum wage or other regulations."

In what way are Uber drivers not very obviously self-employed? They provide their own tools, equipment, and training. They set their own hours. They pick and choose which jobs they want, and can refuse the work if they feel it's not worth enough. All the risk is on the driver. It's insane to suggest owner-drivers aren't self-employed.

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Anonymous Coward

Take your point in a units and measures sense, but the value to me is what I'm willing to pay to get from A to B with the absolute minimum of bother.

Given that others probably think the same, price will govern itself accordingly - what people are willing to shell out.

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Actual no they can't turn down fairs.There is a lawsuit in LA, Uber terminated a person for turning down to many fairs. The law suit is saying if I'm not free to turn down fairs then I'm not truly an independent contractor .

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With other private hire operators eg Addison Lee, they give you a quote for the journey, which may be based on distance and estimated time based on current traffic conditions, or any other criteria they see fit, and if you accept it, that is the price you pay regardless of what happens afterwards.

There are apps that will give you quotes from a number of different operators, along with the estimated time of arrival, and you can pick the one you want. Again, if you accept it, that is the price you pay.

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Then use this system. Or use Uber. Or phone your favourite PHV. Or hail a black cab.

It's your choice, nobody is forcing you to use Uber. Of course if lots of people use Uber and it's successful some of the other options might disappear, but that's how business works -- unsuccessful ones disappear. I'm sure the hand-loom weavers had the same view about power looms as black cab drivers and PHVs do about Uber, but that didn't stop them losing all their business to the upstarts.

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Vic

In what way are Uber drivers not very obviously self-employed?

Their work all comes from the same source. Under IR35 regulations, that looks like employment, and HMRC will probably treat it as such (as they do with other self-employed people getting all their work from the same place).

Vic.

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"Under IR35 regulations, that looks like employment"

No, it's one of a number of factors. But in any case, not one applicable here, since cab drivers have many customers, not just one. Uber is no more the provider of employment than, say, Gumtree is a provider of painting jobs for Polish guys.

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Headmaster

Fares!!!!!!!

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Watch the taximob shills come crawling out of the woodwork

It never takes long for the black-cab gangsters to turn up and drop the same old lies whenever Uber is mentioned. Clearly, they're hurting: good.

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Re: Watch the taximob shills come crawling out of the woodwork

If they spend the afternoon blocking the road outside my office again, sounding their horns continuously, then they're going to get their knowledge shoved where the sun don't shine!

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Thumb Up

Re: Watch the taximob shills come crawling out of the woodwork

I'll add to the anecdotes, though with some personal experience.

I was at a conference in Baltimore a couple of weeks ago and was using Uber to get to/from the convention centre. After the 2nd or third , I noticed the drivers had their phones in their hands....

Thinking to myself "this is not safe, and besides in this state (Maryland) it's not allowed...". Something like that.

The response was "the taxi drivers see you with your phone on the dashboard and know you are an Uber driver, and so block you in and generally try to get in the way".

This was a convention with 8000 people and a great deal of them used Uber/Lyft...

As an aside, Uber allows immediate feedback after your trip. For this case the GPS was *wrong* a few times and I complained via the "comments" section.

And in one case, I got $20 back...try that with any taxi you have taken.

P.

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Re: Watch the taximob shills come crawling out of the woodwork

I expect that the Hackney trade insist that Uber's fare calculation mechanism is a taximeter, then by their same areguments they must insist that Uber-type taxis are ply-for-hire (Hackney) taxis, and consequently must apply for a ply-for-hire (Hackney) license. To me, as a former taxi licenser, Uber-type taxis are clearly private hire vehicles.

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Re: Watch the taximob shills come crawling out of the woodwork

"If they spend the afternoon blocking the road outside my office again..."

Well, hurt them back where they feel it - perhaps a large printout of a bunch of A4's in the office window, spelling out "RIGHT NOW YOU MAKE ME LIKE UBER EVEN MORE" or somesuch is in order...

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Re: Watch the taximob shills come crawling out of the woodwork

I think the taxi driver's objection is that it has a foreign (albeit German) name.

Now if the app was called Enoch - they would be all for it.

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Anonymous Coward

some would say the taxi meter is the device that tells you the cost of the journey

But then I'm not some old soak judge bending over for the highest bidder.

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Boffin

Re: some would say the taxi meter is the device that tells you the cost of the journey

The taximeter is the device that measures the charge. From taxi- and -meter, meaning charge and measure. Originally, a "taxi" was an abbreviation of taximeter cab, as in "a cab with a device that measures the charge".

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Re: some would say the taxi meter is the device that tells you the cost of the journey

Originally, a "taxi" was an abbreviation of taximeter cab, as in "a cab with a device that measures the charge".

I always thought it was originally a taxidermy cab - as in "a cab in which you get well and truly stuffed"

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What am I missing

When I take a cab, a device calculates how much it has cost to get me from point A to point B.

If I used this service, a device would be calculating how much it cost to get me from point A to point B.

Whether the method is GPS/Distance based or ground distance & stoppage based - does it matter? I will still have travelled distance "x" and it will still cost £y..

I am probably misreading something here though.. It's friday and I'm not feeling the brightest.

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Re: What am I missing

It's a very narrow distinction (both legally, and in terms of the end result), but I think the idea is that your journey literally isn't metered, in real-time, with Uber, whereas it is with a taxi meter. I'm at best ambivalent towards Uber, because they play fast and loose with the law, but Tim Worstall's article, on rent seeking, made me think again.

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Re: What am I missing

"Whether the method is GPS/Distance based or ground distance & stoppage based - does it matter? I will still have travelled distance "x" and it will still cost £y.."

How do minicabs do it? There's a difference between looking at how far you've been driven (or how long it's taken) and calculating a fare from it, and having the fare automatically calculated and displayed as you drive along, from a device built into the car and directly connected to the wheels. Uber does none of that.

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Re: What am I missing

" I'm at best ambivalent towards Uber, because they play fast and loose with the law"

Do they? Can you name one way? One that's not just bullshit made up by the taxi gangsters, obviously.

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Re: What am I missing

"Do they? Can you name one way? One that's not just bullshit made up by the taxi gangsters, obviously."

As always, Google is your friend (wanted or not):

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_status_of_Uber%27s_service

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Re: What am I missing

"As always, Google is your friend (wanted or not): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legal_status_of_Uber%27s_service"

And which part of that constitutes 'playing fast and loose with the law'? The fact that Uber does things differently in different countries is evidence of the exact opposite.

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Re: What am I missing

I think the main difference is that a Black Cab measures the cost as you go, whereas the Uber/Lyft/whatever app measures the distance and works out a cost before the journey.

In practise, it means that when you book a cab and the route is blocked due to a road closure (as happened to me a week ago), they'll take you around the issue and still get you home for the same fee (as it was agreed before the journey), whereas a Black Cab would charge more.

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Re: What am I missing

"I think the main difference is that a Black Cab measures the cost as you go, whereas the Uber/Lyft/whatever app measures the distance and works out a cost before the journey."

I don't think that's right. Uber monitors the route taken, and then calculates the price at the end. That's why you get a fare estimate, not a fare quote. The difference is that it doesn't measure distance/time in the same way, there isn't a readout ticking up as you drive along, it's not fitted to the car, and so-on - in other words, it just isn't a taximeter in any way that term is defined by the law.

As the judge pointed out, if a minicab driver uses the odometer to work out the distance he's taken a fare, and a pocket calculator - old skool - to calculate the price, that would also be unlawful under the terms the cabbies' tried to use to exclude Uber.

It's worth pointing out here that the law the cabbies tried to use is not intended to exclude anyone from driving a taxi. It's intended to make it illegal for cabbies to rig the meter. The judge was quite rightly absolutely scathing about the weakness of their case.

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Re: What am I missing

I have phoned up taxi firms for a cab from A to B for X people and enquired a cost. Cost set and away we go.

I have also used uber and gotten a cost before I go.

Not really any difference.

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Re: What am I missing

It was a way to allow limousine service while maintaining the black cab monopoly.

If you book a car for your wedding nobody argues that this is illegal and you should have just tried to flag down a black cab outside the church.

Uber argue that they are a limo company, you book them to take you from A to B for a fixed price - a black cab you hail on the street to take you to B for a price that depends on how far they drive/how long they take.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What am I missing

Exactly. In a Hackney carriage you can, at any time tell the driver to stop and drop you off and you'll pay whatever the taximeter says. Uber is simply an improved minicab service, where the fare is set before the trip.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What am I missing

"In practise, it means that when you book a cab and the route is blocked due to a road closure (as happened to me a week ago), they'll take you around the issue and still get you home for the same fee (as it was agreed before the journey), whereas a Black Cab would charge more."

it also allows Black Cab drivers to charge whatever they feel like for a journey by varying the route, knowing that the majority of customers won't know they are being taken for a ride (sorry) - and if you really really want to see a cabbie in a bad mood, get in the queue, then once in a black cab at Heathrow, ask for Stockley Park. [I've done that once and actually had the driver say "no" - only to be told by the airport guy he can't pick and choose fares. Nothing but abuse and foul language from the driver.]

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What am I missing

Yup - been there, had that treatment. The guy was obviously expecting some gullible tourist wanting London via Edinburgh, not a guy who wanted a quick trip to Longford to pick up his car from a mate's house.

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Re: What am I missing

"get in the queue, then once in a black cab at Heathrow, ask for Stockley Park. [I've done that once and actually had the driver say "no" - only to be told by the airport guy he can't pick and choose fares. Nothing but abuse and foul language from the driver.]"

Oh, I've done that. Only time I've ever had an argument with a cabbie. He tried to charge us forty quid to go from Deathrow to Hounslow. I offered him the choice between a poke in the eye or a smack in the chops. Well, no, I didn't, I just said 'do I sound like a farking tourist, mate?' and he took what the meter was saying after a bit more to-and-fro.

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Re: What am I missing

"Oh, I've done that. Only time I've ever had an argument with a cabbie. He tried to charge us forty quid to go from Deathrow to Hounslow. I offered him the choice between a poke in the eye or a smack in the chops. Well, no, I didn't, I just said 'do I sound like a farking tourist, mate?' and he took what the meter was saying after a bit more to-and-fro."

Naive me was told the fixed £40 price, from Heathrow to Windsor" is a special price. It was indeed special, at (as I found out the following day) double the cost of a private hire cab from the hotel back to Heathrow! The Heathrow taxi ranks are a massive scam!

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Re: What am I missing @Jason Hindle

"It's a very narrow distinction (both legally, and in terms of the end result)"

From what I've read of the judgement, I would agree what we have is a very fine distinction, based on a legal technicality. The question is if we have a modern USPTO methods patent for either (or both) the traditional taximeter and Uber's, would they conflict?

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Re: What am I missing

> [I've done that once and actually had the driver say "no" - only to be told by the airport guy he can't pick and choose fares. Nothing but abuse and foul language from the driver.]

Too bad you didn't record it. Aforesaid driver would be looking at losing his license.

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Re: What am I missing

Actually, the distinction seems to be whether this device (the smart phone and/or app) is actually calculating the charge. It has been decided that it is only reporting the charge, which is calculated elswhere - hence it's not a taximeter.

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Re: What am I missing

Going by the judge's remarks, legally it wouldn't matter if Uber did meter the journey in real time, so long as it did it by the smartphone sending data back to the server to calculate the cost.

The issue is not just the definition of a taximeter, but that the vehicle has to be *equipped* with it -- which means it's physically attached to the vehicle and legally associated with it, for example the vehicle owner is liable if it reads the wrong fare, not the driver (unless they're the same person).

Uber may be not exactly playing the game in areas like taxation, liability, minimum wage and so on, but if people (and governments) don't like this they have to find a *legal* way of making them step into line -- if necessary, by changing the law.

The judge's clearly explained judgement is that according to the current legal definitions of black cabs/PHVs/taximeters Uber are not breaking the law. The fact that they might destroy existing businesses is an unfortunate consequence of the fact that they've come up with a new business model and the old taxi forms haven't -- if the government wants to protect the old jobs (which let's face it, is unlikely since they'll be replaced by Uber ones) they'll have to pass a law to make it happen -- but as the judge said, it's not easy to define a law which stops Uber but doesn't also stop PHVs.

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Hackney licence.

Time to ditch it surely this makes it obsolete?

Just crank up the private hire rate to recover any costs.

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Re: Hackney licence.

I've argued for years that there should be a single taxi licence, that any license-holder should be allowed to both take bookings and ply for hire. This would mean that what is current private hire could ply for hire, but also what is currently private hires would be subject to the regulated fare ceiling.

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Re: Hackney licence.

The taxi is required to take you anywhere - the minicab isn't.

The taxi drivers would argue that they need a monopoly to make up for the loses by having to take less profitable fares rather than picking and choosing only profitable trips to the airport.

Obviously the solution today is simply market pricing - the rate/mile to go across south of the river after 10:00 could be more than a trip to Heathrow.

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"The taximeter is the device that measures the charge."

No, that's adefinition, not the definition. The legal definition is what matters, and it was:

"“a device that works together with the signal generator to make

a measuring instrument; with the device measuring duration,

calculating distance on the basis of a signal delivered by the

distance signal generators; and calculating and displaying the

fare to be paid for a trip on the basis of the calculated distance

or the measured duration of the trip, or of both.” "

You should read the full judgement, the judge clearly was not happy with the black cab mobsters:

"These submissions are no more than an attempt, without clarity of wording or

thinking, to devise something which will cause the Uber system to fall foul of s11, in

the name of a purposive interpretation. It would also not avoid the problems to which

I have already referred, problems of a very considerable scale, for any driver or

operator using devices with which almost all cars are equipped, and sending the basic

information to the operator which any PHV operator would need for calculating fares

accurately and quickly. Would the use of a calculator fall foul of his interpretation,

whereas mental arithmetic might not? Would any degree of automation in the process

fall foul of their approach? "

https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/tfl_-v_uber-final_approved-2.pdf

His logic is concisely and clearly explained.

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Anonymous Coward

Boring..

Like the difference between Napster and Spotify. Industries are having their models turned upside down and they are trying to legislate to appreciate. Well, the forces of production are too strong. If there's money to be made, it'll be made. Technology marches forward. I wonder how long before the "black cabs" adopt the same software? :D

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Re: Boring..

hopefully they will adopt similar software made by someone else. Competition is a good thing

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Couple of things that bother me

I must admit, as a taxi user, Uber does worry me for a couple of reasons.

1) Surge Pricing. Don't get me wrong, I'm well aware that cab companies will make you pay more at christmas/new year/etc. But all of those changes are well advertised, I know they're coming and when, and can plan accordingly. Uber, as far as I understand it, I won't know whether someone's chosen to up the price until the journey is calculated at the time. Kind of buggers up planning a tad.

2) Insurance, safety etc. Proper insurance and safety stuff is part and parcel of getting the private hire plates/taxi plates. Is the safety training and insurance part of the whole Uber deal, or can any tom dick or asshole with a car and a phone sign up?

Otherwise, booing a taxi through an app and knowing what it'll cost before it starts is a great improvement.

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Re: Couple of things that bother me

1) Surge pricing's great in my book. It's pretty predictable normally, and if you're worried about it going to 1.2x or something, you can watch on the app, do fare estimates, and see when's cheap. Or if it's really expensive, you might decide to share an Uber. Which is kind of the point of surge pricing.

2) It's as much part of Uber as the regulations say it has to be in any given country. So in London, for example, Uber drivers have exactly the same licensing and insurance requirements as any other minicab driver.

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