London cabbies hire private detectives to investigate Uber drivers as taxi war continues

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association is privately prosecuting drivers using app

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The Independent Travel

London cabbies have hired private investigators to pose as passengers in a bitter legal battle against booking app Uber.

The company, which operates in 45 countries around the world, has caused controversy by undercutting local fares and using “surge pricing” in peak times.

Its app allows customers to find the nearest driver and direct them to their location using GPS. The drivers use iPhones to accept and find passengers and take 80 per cent of the fare.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), which brought central London to a standstill with a protest against Uber in the summer, has taken the company to court over its fare calculation methods, which it claims amounts to the illegal use of a meter.

Bob Oddy, the union's Deputy General Secretary, said the private prosecution is based on section 11 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, which states that meters can only be used by licensed taxis.

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The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone

Pre-dating smartphones, it defines a taximeter as “a device for calculating the fare to be charged in respect of any journey by reference to the distance travelled or time elapsed since the start…or both”.

Mr Oddy said the clause outlines the main difference between London taxis (black cabs), that can be hailed and run a meter, and pre-booked minicabs.

The LTDA gathered its evidence for the case in March, by paying private investigators to pose as passengers using Uber.

“Sometimes I go out with my colleagues and gather the evidence but in this particular case we hired these legitimate people to hire the Uber cabs.”

In a notice released to taxi and minicab drivers in July, Transport for London’s road director Leon Daniels said a review found Uber operates in London “in accordance with the law”.

He confirmed that private hire vehicles in London are prohibited from being equipped with taximeters but said it is not unlawful for minicabs to calculate charges based on distance and time.

“TfL’s view is that smartphones that transmit location information between vehicles and operators, have no operational connection with the vehicles, and receive information about fares which are calculated remotely from the vehicle, are not taximeters within the meaning of the legislation,” Mr Daniels added.

“In order for us to resolve this issue as quickly and fairly as possible, allowing all interested parties to make representations, we consider the most appropriate way forward is to invite the High Court to issue a declaration as to how the law should be applied in this area.

“However, we are now aware that the LTDA has commenced private prosecutions in the Magistrates’ Court against a number of individual drivers who use the Uber app.”

At the latest hearing at Westminster Magistrates' Court on Friday, a judge ruled that the High Court was the “most appropriate venue” to resolve the dispute, the Sunday Times reported, adjourning the LTDA’s criminal proceedings so that a civil case could be launched.

Jo Bertram, Uber’s regional manager for the UK, said only a handful of drivers who use the app were involved in the case, rather than the company as a whole.

“Ultimately we don’t believe the Uber app a taxi meter but that’s something for TfL to decide,” she added.

“We agree that the High Court is the right place to decide this matter in the interests of all parties.”