Smartphone apps which use GPS technology and connect to external servers for the calculation of fares comply with the law which prohibits taximeters in private hire vehicles in London, the High Court has declared.
The High Court was asked by Transport for London (TfL), Uber, the Licensed Taxi Driver Association and the Licensed Private Hire Car Association to clarify the law governing the use of such apps by online minicab firm Uber and others in London.
In his written judgment Mr Justice Ouseley said: “A taximeter, for the purposes of Section 11 of the Private Hire Vehicles (London) Act 1998, does not include a device that receives GPS signals in the course of a journey, and forwards GPS data to a server located outside of the vehicle, which server calculates a fare that is partially or wholly determined by reference to distance travelled and time taken, and sends the fare information back to the device.”
Mr Justice Ouseley said that whilst the smartphone with the driver's app may be essential to enabling the calculation of fares to take place, that did not make it a device "for" calculating fares in breach of the taximeter prohibition. He also found that it was drivers, not their vehicles, who are "equipped" with smartphones.
TFL welcomed the ruling, which it said accorded with its own view of the status of smartphone taxi apps. TFL said that the clarification of the law would be taken into account by the wider public consultation into the regulations that govern the private hire trade.
The private hire sector in London has risen from around 59,000 drivers in 2009/10 to over 89,000 today. The Mayor has recently renewed his call to Government to give TfL powers to cap the number of private hire vehicles in London to address rising traffic congestion and illegal parking and to help improve air quality.
Leon Daniels, TfL's Managing Director of Surface Transport, said: "With legal certainty established over taximeters, we will continue to work hard with all of our stakeholders to deliver taxi and private hire services which meet the needs of modern London.
"Disruptive technology and new business models have radically changed the way that taxi and private hire services operate and has widened customer choice. This is welcome. At the same time, as the regulator, we must ensure that regulatory requirements are met and are developed in a way that delivers the high standards customers deserve.
"As part of this, we are gauging public opinion on a range of potential changes to private hire regulations, including stricter rules on insurance and English language skills. We know that some ideas put forward for consultation are controversial, which is why we want as many people as possible to tell us what they think to help shape the future of private hire in London."
The consultation closes on 23 December. People can respond to the consultation here.