Today’s ruling that Uber’s app doesn’t breach the ban on minicabs using taximeters isn’t just good news for the firm but an important vindication of Transport for London.
Ever since the agency, which doubles as regulator for the minicab and taxi cab trades, approved the firm’s application to open offices in London it’s been accused of tacitly sanctioning illegal activity.
Cabbies, commentators and some politicians have repeatedly asserted that the illegality of the app was obvious for all to see unless, as some claimed, you were taking bungs from the firm.
Then along came MPs who lambasted TfL for not exceeding its remit and seeking to impose conditions on Uber which changed its tax structure, and potential mayoral candidates who said they’d have blocked Uber’s application and challenged them to take TfL to judicial review.
Such interventions are a great way to win headlines but they’re not an appropriate way for a regulator to behave.
Had TfL tried to barter a licence in return for Uber changing its tax status it would have rightly faced a successful legal challenge for exceeding the powers Parliament gave it.
And had managers ignored their own lawyers’ hideously expensive advice that the app was legal and refused the licence application, today’s ruling removes any doubt about how easily Uber could have overturned that decision.
In both cases London tax and fare payers would have faced paying Uber hundreds of thousands or even millions of pounds in damages. How would the tax campaigners have felt about that?
The law has now been clarified at minimal cost to the taxpayer and can now be upheld.
Which is why TfL’s decision to approve Uber’s operations, explain why it thought the app was legal and ask a court to confirm or overturn its reasoning was not, as some claim, a waste of public cash but, to quote the judge, “the right course” for it to have followed.