Hogan Lovells and Blackstone triumph for Uber in row over taxi app

Blackstone Chambers’ Monica Carss-Frisk QC and Hogan Lovells have secured a win for Uber after the High Court decided that the private hire company’s app was legal under the legislation governing taxis in London.

Transport for London’s (TfL) in-house team brought a claim asking the High Court to decide whether Uber’s fare calculation app was a taximeter – a device which is restricted to black cabs.

Mr Justice Ouseley ruled this morning (16 October) that the app “is not a device for calculating fares by itself”, adding: “Even if it were, the vehicle is not equipped with it.”

He made the ruling because the calculation of the fare by reference to distance and time takes place on an external server and not within the driver’s smartphone, adding that a taximeter does not include a device receiving GPS signals.

The decision follows over a year of argument about the issue, with TfL’s in-house team first issuing letters before action to Uber, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) and the Licensed Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA) in June 2014. The body instructed Brick Court ChambersMartin Chamberlain QC and Tim Johnston in April to file the claim.

Hogan Lovells EU public law and policy head Paul Dacam led the firm’s advice to Uber, instructing Carss-Frisk for the company.

The LTDA turned to London firm Michael Demidecki & Co to lead its arguments against Uber’s use of the app. Partner John Luckhurst instructed Doughty Street Chambers’ Martin Westgate QC.

Meanwhile Latham & Watkins London litigation head Simon Bushell acted for the LPHCA, instructing Blackstone’s Pushpinder Saini QC and Ben Jaffey.

In a statement TfL said: “TfL’s view has always been that smartphones are not taximeters. However, it recognised the validity of arguments to the contrary and the significant public interest in establishing legal certainty in the matter.”

The organisation is currently running a consultation to update the regulations governing the private hire trade, which were written before the use of technology like Uber’s app became commonplace.

The legal line-up

For the claimant, Transport for London

Brick Court Chambers’ Martin Chamberlain QC and Tim Johnston, instructed by Transport for London’s in-house team

For the first defendant, Uber London Ltd

Blackstone Chambers’ Monica Carss-Frisk QC, instructed by Hogan Lovells partner Paul Dacam

For the second defendant, the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association

Doughty Street Chambers’ Martin Westgate QC, instructed by Michael Demidecki & Co partner John Luckhurst

For the third defendant, the Licensed Private Hire Car Association

Blackstone Chambers’ Pushpinder Saini QC and Ben Jaffey, instructed by Latham & Watkins partner Simon Bushell