Is a phone app also a taxi meter?

Is a phone app also a taxi meter? Readers may be aware of the ongoing issue in London to do with the Uber app and associated taxi trade uproar.

In fact so incensed are the taxi trade in London that one of Hailo's offices (another similar app) in the City was graffitied during a protest earlier this month.

What is Uber?

It is a smart phone app that:

  • lets users request (from other users) a journey anywhere;

  • will calculate the “fare” and lets you pay in advance for the journey; and

  • is an on-demand service that means no reservations are required and “no waiting in taxi lines”.

Uber has formerly worked only with licensed black cabs, but has now expanded to include private hire minicabs.

The Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA) is of the opinion that the app used by Uber drivers is essentially a taximeter because, it calculates the journey and the time taken from {C}

GPS data and comes up with a fee.

Transport for London (TfL) recently said that it doesn’t think that the app is in breach of the law. However “given the level of concern among the trade” and the fact that the law was “unclear”, it wants to refer the matter to the UK High Court.

In a statement, Leon Daniels (TfL’s managing director of surface transport) said, “On the issue of taximeters, the law is unclear and we have taken a provisional view. We will be asking the High Court to provide a binding ruling. This is the sensible approach, and we hope that London's taxi drivers and private hire drivers and operators will work with us to bring clarity on this issue.”

This issue is a classic (and yet another) example of why reform is so desperately needed.  TfL has on a number of occasions said that part of the problem is that the law is “unclear” and it would be, because it predates smart phones and certainly smart phone apps.

There is of course also nothing to suggest this will remain a problem only in London and it may very well spread further a field!

With the advance of technology it is not going to get any easier and the Government will do well to sit up and take notice.  Although they have made it clear that nothing will happen with the new Taxi & Private Hire Services Bill until at least after next May, this is a classic example of why taxi and private hire law reform should be a priority for who ever is in Government come May 2015.