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Taxi drivers win High Court challenge over Streetspace plan

London’s taxi trade has hailed High Court rulings in which it won on four out of five grounds under which it challenged Mayor Sadiq Khan’s Streetspace plan.

In United Trade Action Group Ltd & Anor, R (On the Application Of) v Transport for London & Anor [2021] EWHC 72 (Admin) Mrs Justice Lang held that the plan and a traffic order closing part of the A10 at Bishopsgate, in the City of London, to most vehicles including taxis were both unlawful and should be quashed.

Streetspace is a plan intended to encourage people not to use road vehicles in London due to some expected reluctance to begin using public transport again during and after the pandemic.

Taxi trade bodies United Trade Action Group and the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association argued both policies were unlawful in a case that began last October.

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Lang J said upheld the challenge on the grounds that Transport for London (TfL) failed in making the plan to distinguish taxis from general traffic and so failed to have regard to the distinct status of taxis as a form of public transport, and the role they play in transporting people with mobility impairments.

She found Mr Khan failed to have proper regard to the public sector equality duty and that the Streetspace plan and associated guidance breached the taxi drivers’ legitimate expectation to pass and repass on London’s roads, and to use lanes reserved for buses.

Lang J also held that the treatment of taxis in the plan, guidance and A10 Order was irrational.

“In my judgment, quashing orders rather than declarations are appropriate because of the nature and extent of the unlawfulness which I have identified, which affects not only taxi drivers, but also their passengers,” the judge said.

“The plan, the guidance and the A10 Order all need to be re-considered by the defendants and substantially amended in the light of my judgment.”

She did though reject one ground of challenge, that the economic benefits which taxi drivers derive from their statutory licences were a “possession”.

There was also a separate ruling by Lang J in United Trade Action Group Ltd & Anor, R (On the Application Of) v Transport for London & Anor [2021] EWHC 73 (Admin) on the admissibility of certain evidence.       

David Matthias QC, who led for the trade bodies, said: “This judgment is of major importance not only to London’s iconic black cab trade but also to all people living, working or visiting London who are unable to walk significant distances or to cycle.

“In the course of her long and careful judgment Mrs Justice Lang has vindicated all the concerns raised by the taxi trade, both on their own account and on account of the disabled, the elderly and all other people prejudiced by the Streetspace plan and its impacts throughout the capital.”  

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association said: “The court has upheld the importance of taxi access and points we’ve raised repeatedly with TfL and City Hall since they first announced Streetspace, but which had sadly fallen on deaf ears until now.

“We were told the pandemic gave policy makers free rein to act, without consultation, leaving us no choice other than to go to court.” 

A mayoral spokesperson said: “We are very disappointed by the court’s ruling and are seeking to appeal this judgment.

“[The A10 Bishopsgate] has long suffered with a poor safety record and slow bus speeds, and the scheme aimed to tackle these issues, reducing road danger for vulnerable road users and improving the flow of bus traffic.£

The spokesperson added: “Our temporary emergency Streetspace measures are vital to help support both walking and the huge increase in cycling we’ve seen since the pandemic began, reduce the risk of a damaging car-based recovery and enable social distancing and much faster journeys on public transport, reducing the risk of infection.

“We mustn’t get through one public health crisis only to face another caused by congestion and toxic air pollution.”

A TfL spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the court’s ruling and are seeking to appeal this judgment. Temporary Streetspace schemes are enabling safer essential journeys during this exceptionally challenging time and are vital to ensuring that increased car traffic does not threaten London’s recovery from coronavirus.

“We absolutely recognise the need for schemes such as our Bishopsgate corridor to work for the communities they serve and have worked hard to ensure that people across London, including those who use taxis, can continue to get to where they need to be. We also recognise the need for schemes to be delivered in a fair and consistent manner and have worked closely with the boroughs to create clear guidance for implementing schemes, updating this regularly to reflect what we have learnt. These schemes will stay in place pending our appeal."

Mark Smulian

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