As Uber announces its intention to operate within Cambridge established taxi businesses will become increasingly concerned as to the impact on their business.
This has already been seen in London where Transport for London (‘TfL’) sought clarity about the operation of Uber following pressure from traditional “Black Cab” drivers. They are famously protective of the right to ply for hire, as Uber starts to impinge on this fiercely guarded capacity. Last year, the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (‘LTDA’) sought a ruling through TfL as to whether the app itself was a taxi meter for the purposes of Section 11 of the Private Hire Vehicles Act 1998. Lord Justice Ouseley subsequently found that: ‘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.’ So this has helped to determine how the app is viewed in law.
Customers wishing to seek immediate availability of a taxi can utilise the App to locate the nearest available vehicle. The issue will come, but to date, remains unchallenged, as to how close the definitive delay before “pick up” would amount to plying for hire? The majority of Uber taxis being private hire vehicles are precluded from plying for hire unless they are designated as Hackney Carriages. TfL are currently undertaking a consultation that includes a proposal that a five minute delay be added to an Uber “booking” prior to a journey in an attempt to stop instantaneous bookings and an offence of unlawfully plying for hire.
Monitoring of drivers will still continue as all vehicles and drivers must still apply for a private hire licence whether they are use an Uber app or not, and therefore face the same DBS checks and supervision by the licensing department at the local city council. On face value, the level of supervision and ensuring all drivers are designated “fit and proper persons” will remain.
An interesting dynamic will be whether Uber cabs will be “floating” in the city centre of Cambridge, rather than using the taxi rank space available (if a designated hackney carriage) with the inevitable congestion that an increase of vehicles may cause.
It is recognised that new business models and the drive for deregulation are rapidly changing the way taxi and private hire services operate; and as a result have widened customer choice and value. The challenge for regulators is to maintain standards and any increase in the number of PHVs will not see a reduction in enforcement through over capacity. Licensing departments may well have to consider future issues regarding records, the use of commercial insurance, plus ensuring charging rates are publicised with passengers not being left wondering as to what they should be paying prior to the beginning of the journey.
Other concerns have been raised regarding proficiency in English and the requirement for a geographical or “knowledge” test to be passed. The control of “private” taxi ranks such as that operated by Abellio Anglia outside the City railway station, may lead to increased congestion as taxis “hover” for fares. Will this lead to conflict unsupervised by the rail company? Other anomalies will be the passenger understanding what they are paying for before the money is withdrawn from their account; details of which are required, whenever Uber’s app is downloaded.
Finally, with the increase in drivers linked to Uber and the potential increase in congestion following deregulation, what will be the impact on the environment in Cambridge with the possible increase of taxis waiting in residential streets?
These are just a few thoughts on a story that has not yet reached the end of its journey.