TfL in-house lawyers launch High Court case in Uber taxi row

Transport for London’s (TfL) in-house lawyers have launched a court action in the row between black cab and Uber taxi drivers.

The body’s in-house team has issued letters before claim to Uber, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) and the Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) to seek a High Court ruling on the row over taxi meters in London.

The three sides are engaged in a bitter row over whether the Uber smartphone app counts as a taxi meter, which private hire vehicles are not allowed to use.

Despite its roster of panel firms, TfL has not yet instructed any external lawyers or barristers to pursue its claim, instead relying on its in-house team to kickstart the process.

The agency is seeking a binding High Court ruling on whether smart phones that use GPS technology to measure the time and distance of a journey and receive information about fares infringe ‘taximeter’ rules, as alleged by black cabs.

A statement issued by the body said: “TfL set out its provisional view that smart phones used by private hire drivers do not constitute the equipping of a vehicle with a ‘taximeter’.

“However, given the level of concern among the trade, and the fact that some of the legislation in this area is unclear and able to be interpreted in various ways, TfL is inviting the High Court to give a binding determination on this issue.”

For TfL’s last taxi-related court case the body turned to Brick Court Chambers’ Martin Chamberlain QC and Sarah Love. The two were instructed by TfL’s Jane Hart when it secured an injunction against Addison Lee to stop its drivers using bus lanes (26 April 2012). Chamberlain and Love won against set mate Marie Demetriou QC, instructed by Maitland Walker partner Julian Maitland-Walker.

The agency could turn to any of its 11 panel firms when it receives responses to its letters next week but has not yet done so (30 October 2012). TfL cut its legal panel from 12 to 11 firms in its last review, with Clifford Chance and Travers Smith among four firms to exit the roster.

The revamped panel comprised newly appointed firms Lewis Silkin, SNR Denton and Trowers & Hamlins alongside existing members Ashurst, Berwin Leighton Paisner, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Herbert Smith Freehills, K&L Gates, Simmons & Simmons and legacy Wragge & Co.

The LTDA has also launched private prosecutions against six minicab drivers who use Uber. It could not be reached for comment.

TfL’s managing director of surface transport Leon Daniels said: “The process for securing a High Court ruling on the issue of taximeters is now underway. We hope that London’s taxi drivers and private hire drivers and operators recognise that this is the sensible approach and will work with us.”