London's regulators just gave ride-sharing service Uber the green light to operate in the city. Well, more of a yellow light, actually.
Uber's popular smartphone app has riled up a lot of traditional cab drivers. Cabbies all across Europe staged a massive protest last month to complain that the tech startup's lack of regulation is undermining their business. (Via BBC)
And the city's cab union, the Licensed Taxi Driver's Association, took things a step further by filing a legal complaint against Uber. The LTDA claims Uber isn't properly licensed to operate in London, and Uber drivers are illegally using their smartphones as taximeters. (Via Bloomberg, Euronews)
The city's regulator, Transport for London, or TfL, issued their verdict on the matter Thursday, and the ruling went all Uber's way. The company can legally operate in London for now — but Uber's not out of the woods just yet.
First, on the matter of licensing, TfL made clear it didn't have a problem with the way Uber licensed its driver. The Next Web has TfL's statement: "[Uber] has taken steps ... to make it entirely clear as to who is accepting bookings. ... TfL's position, supported by legal advice, is that there are no grounds to take action against Uber."
The ruling on taximeters is a bit more complicated. Cabbies complained Uber drivers were using their smartphones as de facto meters to calculate fare prices — an illegal practice in London. But the TfL disagreed, saying smartphones were legally distinct from taximeters because they weren't directly hooked up to the car. (Via Flickr / Julep67)
That's a pretty contentious claim to make, and could have a far-reaching impact beyond Uber's specific case. Which is why TfL is willing to punt the decision to England's High Court for final judgment. But here's where the taxi drivers might have shot themselves in the foot.
"We've decided to run private prosecutions against six Uber drivers for operating a mini-cab meter." (Via ITV)
Yes, in addition to their complaint with the city, the LTDA also sued individual Uber drivers on the same taximeter issue the TfL wants the High Court to decide. Those cases are currently working their way through criminal courts. (Via CNET)
Bloomberg notes the High Court likely won't issue a ruling on the issue until those cases are cleared up. "Transport for London said that its bid to have a civil court clarify rules for what constitutes a regulated taxi service would have to wait until criminal cases are finished."
"We wanted to get this clarified straight away so everyone knew where they were. So it's very frustrating that this has been further delayed."
Uber celebrated the agency's ruling Thursday as "a victory for common sense, technology, innovation, and especially London." The LTDA has accused the TfL of bias, and says it hopes the criminal cases will be decided in their favor.