Taxi and Private Hire - 'Future Proof (Supplementary) [1]

Session date: 
March 25, 2015
Question By: 
Richard Tracey
GLA Conservatives


Richard Tracey AM:  Indeed, Mr Mayor, a lot of the overall confusion about enforcement and everything is being caused by the proliferation of these apps for securing a car.  Can I ask you point blank what the situation is over the legal case and the verification of what Uber [taxi hire mobile phone app] is up to in London?  Clearly, it is quite a popular means of getting a car amongst many people, but we really need to be clear.




Answer for Taxi and Private Hire - 'Future Proof (Supplementary) [1]

Answer for Taxi and Private Hire - 'Future Proof (Supplementary) [1]

Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  All right.  I will tell you where we are with the legal case, Dick.  Until last month, there was a case that the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association (LTDA), which many people here today may be members of, had a criminal case before the Magistrates Court against various Uber drivers.  The Magistrates Court, as I understand it, did not want to hear that case, yet the LTDA would not withdraw it.  It was impossible for us at TfL to proceed to adjudication in a higher court under the rules of this country as long as that case was before the Magistrates Court.


The LTDA has now withdrawn that case from the Magistrates Court because it was not getting anywhere and we are now asking the High Court to make a resolution on this legal point, which is whether an mobile phone app of the kind that Uber drivers have is a taximeter or not.  In my view, if it calculates the fare, if it tells you how far you have gone and if it enables the driver to present you with the cost of the journey in the course of the journey, then that is a taximeter.


I can tell you that that is not necessarily the view of my learned friends and I had a long and acrimonious conversation with a very senior High Court judge who said, “Of course it is not a taximeter”, and so on and so forth.  We have a legal problem.


Interjection from the public gallery:  Germany does not.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Unfortunately, my understanding is that the other European jurisdictions that have banned Uber apps have banned the car-sharing part of it, which we do not actually seem to have in London.


We have to face the fact that, Dick, as you say, we and the black cab trade are fighting very considerable forces.  They are one legal obscurantism and delay.  We are fighting also, I am afraid, a very powerful force, which is consumer price sensitivity and convenience.  That is something that we need to focus on.  The black cab trade has been around for more than 100 years.  It is going to be around long after Uber has come and gone.  However, we need to address the technological challenge and we need to understand how to make technology our friend and our ally.  I cannot dis-invent the mobile phone.  I cannot take away ‑‑


[Interjection from the public gallery]


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  ‑‑ mobile phones from everybody aged 20 to 40.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  All right.  Can I just stop you, Mr Mayor, for a moment?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Of course.


Roger Evans AM (Chairman):  I want to just reiterate the point that catcalling is not acceptable.  In fact, I am going to issue a second warning, which means that if people do it again I will ask them to leave.  Please carry on.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I want to just end by making this point:  I accept and I understand that the black cab trade is a vital part of London’s transport economy.  They are the gold standard of cabs around the world.  They are appreciated by visitors to this city.  They are a hugely vital service to this city and indeed to this country.  We need to protect and support them.  That is why I have announced the measures I have to increase enforcement of touting.  I take Val’s point and I take the point that was made by members of the audience today:  we need to raise our game there; we need to get to a conclusion of this Uber problem.


However, we also need to help the black cab trade itself to be the technological leader and the natural people that the customers want to go to.  That is going to need some thinking about how to make the black cab trade more technology-friendly, to use apps itself and indeed to be able to take payment by card and all those kinds of things that would assist the cab trade as well.


Richard Tracey AM:  Can I ask you to prevail on the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, to make sure that this very senior High Court judge and his friends actually do get down to looking at this case?  It is clearly an urgent matter.


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  I agree.


Richard Tracey AM:  If indeed they do decide that the Uber process is a meter, will TfL follow the German Government in banning this thing from the roads?


Boris Johnson (Mayor of London):  Yes, we will.  As I said, you have to be careful about what is actually happening in other European jurisdictions.  As far as I understand the matter, they are not banning the Uber app that we are seeing in London.  They are banning a car-sharing app.  The only place where the Uber thing has been banned altogether, as I understand it, is Delhi.  Other European jurisdictions have not done so.  However, if we could get the legal go-ahead, then of course we will do what the law commands us to do.  Unfortunately, with the present state of play, we are unable to do that.


In those circumstances, what we have to do is to support the black cab trade in many of the ways that Future Proof sets out, not least cracking down on touting but in other ways also, in trying to help the black cab trade to take advantage of technology.  In the end, we will not win this thing and we will not make progress if the young people whom I talk to continue to tell me that they get better value from some app system.  We have to make technology our friend.


Richard Tracey AM:  Thank you.