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Transportation The Courts United Kingdom

UK High Court: Uber Is Lawful (bbc.com) 106

An anonymous reader writes: The UK's High Court has been hearing a case brought against ridesharing service Uber by Transport for London, the government body in charge of public transport in London. Their claim was that Uber drivers' smartphones should be considered meters because they use GPS and data from external servers to calculate the cost of a ride. Meters are banned in private hire vehicles (and TfL's claims were backed by associations for local taxi drivers and private hire cars). The High Court has found that Uber does not run afoul of that ban. Justice Ouseley said the technology was fundamentally different from standard taxi meters. Transport for London welcomed the decision, but transportation lobbyists are likely to continue challenging Uber in court whenever they can.
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UK High Court: Uber Is Lawful

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  • However (Score:5, Funny)

    by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday October 16, 2015 @04:02PM (#50746279) Homepage Journal
    The Justices were relying upon Uber's patent, which clearly said the technology was new because it included the words "...but on the Internet" at the end.
    • If your reaction to this story is, "Rats! We need a different way to stop them then!" then you have a problem.

      One should merely ask do they meet reasonable safety and insurance concerns? and move on with life. Regulatory capture by entrenched interests is in nobody's interest, and the fact these services are so popular just emphasizes how a nominal democracy can stray from the actual wishes of the people without a loud drumbeat to watch and interfere with the scurrilous, behind the scenes crap.

      • Re:However (Score:4, Insightful)

        by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday October 16, 2015 @04:48PM (#50746561) Homepage Journal

        I'm making a joke about patents. I'm not commenting on whether Uber's in the right or not.

        Although...

        Regulatory capture, for the most part, is a myth. I've seen very few cases of regulation where somehow the regulated benefit competitively. Friedman's poster child for "Regulatory capture" was the railroads, and he was writing this nonsense back in the 1950s, long after it became clear over-regulation (and government subsidized competition) was utterly destroying the railroad industry, so it's hard to take seriously as a complaint.

        Taxis aren't regulated because of a conspiracy of taxi companies to prevent competition. They're regulated because virtually every city in the world that has them wants to make sure customers aren't abused, and taxi companies go along with it only because a common minimum standard of behavior means more trust from potential customers.

        And yeah, this is the point where someone mentions medallions, and I shoot right back with pictures of New York City streets utterly crowded with taxis and point out that New York is regulating the market to prevent it from becoming an anti-social streets-clogging menace. Medallions, and equivalents, aren't really used in cities that don't have problems with too many vehicles on the roads.

        Uber in London? No idea. They may even be in the right there, assuming their drivers are not stopping when hailed from the streets. Uber strikes me as fitting right in with the minicab model.

        • by Roblimo ( 357 )

          Right. Minicabs with automated dispatch. That's what Uber is.

          We need to stop calling it a "ridesharing" service, though. It's an automated dispatch company. Uber and Lyft are starting to experiment with true ridesharing, but I have trouble believing it will work except as a separate brand, likely with vans.

        • "And yeah, this is the point where someone mentions medallions, and I shoot right back with pictures of New York City streets utterly crowded with taxis"

          So, NYC reacted to one problem by making another one which has made those lucky enough to have medallions effectively the holders of licenses to print money.

          The funny thing about streets full of taxis is that in the end it's self-regulating as fares can only go down so far and there are only so many riders.

        • Uber strikes me as fitting right in with the minicab model.

          Yes, of course they do. That's because they are a minicab company.

          The problem many of us have with Uber isn't that they're providing an alternative to conventional minicab services, but that they try to pretend they're not providing a minicab service at all, and are therefore entitled to ignore any laws relating to minicabs.

      • by Altus ( 1034 )

        Honestly I am shocked this didn't stop them. In this case it certainly seems that they are running afoul of the law. Personally I am in favor of these devices though I do think sane regulation is a good idea. But protecting the awful taxi lobby that exists in so many locations isn't a worthwhile endeavor.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        That is not democracy. It is not just the inadequate insurance and safety (in which I include accessibility), but reliability and long term planning.

        Just because lots of people use Uber, it doesn't mean the vast remainder of the population (who own the roads through the government - it all comes down to property law) are happy with Uber.

        They may concern themselves with the lack of testing of Uber drivers, who - unlike black cabbies - aren't regularly ridden by licensing officials who confirm that the best p

        • Speaking as someone who lives in london, the vast majority of people won't use black cabs. If they need transport they'll use public transport or hire a minicab.

          The only people who use black cabs are tourists, those so wealthy they don't care about the cost, those who have someone else paying the cost and those who have no other choice.

          Black Cabbies routinely break the laws by refusing fares and get away with it and a couple have been discovered to be the most prolific rapists in the city, which shows the l

          • Black cabs are really not that expensive compared to minicabs, but the old "I don't go south of the river/sorry mate I'm actually on my way home to Essex but forgot to turn my for taxi light off" thing still applies unless you're lucky.
      • But in America your entire quality of life is dependent on your employer. Uber runs around all that by declaring their employees "contractors". There have already been a couple of those "like Uber for..." Companies that shut down as soon as they were told they had to treat their employees as such. Basically Uber only works and is profitable when they externalize their costs ( insurance, maintenance, risk, healthcare, taxes, etc). In the long run Uber is part of a global race to the bottom for the working cl
  • It's analogous to hiring your next door neighbor's son to mow your lawn with his mower. This is idiotic.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      But what if he doesn't have the right permits? Also, how do you make sure he is properly bonded, pays taxes, and has insurance?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by ichthus ( 72442 )

        how do you make sure he is properly bonded

        Is there an improper way to bond?

        ...pays taxes...

        Why should I give a rat's ass? That's the IRS's job.

        and has insurance

        That's the job of the police and the DOT.

        • Yup.

          Man, if we had all these entrenched interests, and over-burdensome govt regulations years back, we'd not have the nice things we have in society today.

          It is just so hard for an entrepreneur to be able to innovate and challenge the old school status quo these days.

        • and has insurance

          That's the job of the police and the DOT.

          That's not going to help you if you are the passenger in an Uber car that gets into an accident. Just wait until someone who was hit by an Uber car sues the Uber passenger.

        • and has insurance

          That's the job of the police and the DOT.

          Yup, and that is exactly why they are going after Uber in many places. It is the government's job to make sure that organizations providing livery or taxi service on public thoroughfares have the required insurance to cover them in the event of accidents or incidents which could harm their clients. And that is what they are doing, and that is why Uber is coming under fire in many jurisdictions.

          • and has insurance

            That's the job of the police and the DOT.

            Yup, and that is exactly why they are going after Uber in many places. It is the government's job to make sure that organizations providing livery or taxi service on public thoroughfares have the required insurance to cover them in the event of accidents or incidents which could harm their clients. And that is what they are doing, and that is why Uber is coming under fire in many jurisdictions.

            It's at this point that Uber supporters say "but that's unfair because Uber is just a ride sharing service, not a livey or taxi service".

    • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Friday October 16, 2015 @04:35PM (#50746479) Journal

      The judgement did not say that Uber is lawful.

      It only said that Uber does not violate the law against minicabs using taxi meters to determine charges. There are other lawsuits pending.

      • Well, I figured it was just another Uber-written article so I know better to take it at face value.

        It's hilariously brazen at times. What gets me is why they consider Slashdot such fertile ground. Probably only because nowhere else can these guys get this kind of propaganda density, and because they're clearly targeting angry nerds. Traditionally, oil companies et al try to buy off graduate students and scientists, but this isn't a question of science, it's a question of social expectations and the way soci

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        The judgement means, to this point, there are rulings they aren't breaking the law, and no rulings they are. That'd be "declared legal" for all useful uses of language. At best, you could qualify it with a "so far" at the end.
        • I kill someone by hitting them with my car at speed. On the way to hitting them, I get a speeding ticket, which I contest and win. According to your logic, my actions have been declared lawful because there are no judgements against me.

          Just as there is a difference between a not-guilty verdict and actually not committing any crime, there is a difference between a ruling that they are not breaking a specific law and a ruling that they are "lawful".

    • It's analogous to hiring your next door neighbor's son to mow your lawn with his mower. This is idiotic.

      It's analogous to hiring a random person who works for a multinational corporation of professional lawn servicemen, who are like all of the other professional lawn service businesses in every way except that this particular professional lawn service does not see fit to hold appropriate licensing or insurance, requires their employees to buy their own equipment, work at an agreed upon wage at the whim of the business but refuses to call them employees and, oh yeah, the thing that really makes them unique is

    • by Anonymous Coward

      No, it's not like that. This is like your neighbors kid holding himself out to the public at large as a lawn service company but without doing any of the things (or incurring any if the expenses) required of a legitimate business in that space.

      One is very small scale among people who know each other and the other is not.

      If you don't comprehend the difference I can't help you.

      It's always a legitimate and healthy debate as to whether certain rules are necessary. It is utterly wrong to expect some players t

  • Better Headline (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday October 16, 2015 @04:09PM (#50746317)

    A better headline would be:
    There is a law involving cabs that Uber isn't breaking.

    They did not declare Uber legal. They just declared that smartphones aren't taxi meters.

  • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Friday October 16, 2015 @04:15PM (#50746349) Homepage Journal

    The Uber cellphone could certainly act sort of like a standard taxi meter, calculating total distance traveled during a trip, but instead it does the equivalent of calling up a central office and having somebody determine from a map an estimated driving time and distance to plug into a formula to determine the appropriate charge. The passenger knows the total cost of the trip when they book it. It's a lot like some transport companies - 'trip from hotel X to the airport? $30'.

    Remember, terminologies vary by country and even city. In NYC, Uber is mostly a 'black car' service, just more responsive. They do not qualify as taxis, and they deliberately take actions to avoid being called taxis, at least in NYC.

    Nobody here has done it yet, but I have seen posters ripping Uber for not doing x or y, like having meters, saying not having them makes them not taxis, then saying that they should be following the taxi rules...

    • by Altus ( 1034 )

      My experience in n the states is that I can get an estimated fare but that I don't actually know the price until I arrive. Is it different in the UK? I'm surprised that they won this case though I am generally in favor of these services. It sure seems like a meter to me

    • by Xiaran ( 836924 )
      > The Uber cellphone could certainly act sort of like a standard taxi meter How would that work? Who would regulate that the cellphone app was accurate? The same people regulating VW?
      • Taximeters are tested for certification. The official takes it on a measured course and checks that it gives the correct mileage. Typically, it's allowed to be around 4% under or 2% over, something like that so to be safe you try to make it 1% under, which gives you 3% margin of error either way.

        I was involved in designing and implementing an app called Cross Cabbie. We're more accurate than the traditional meters.

  • What about the labor laws / London Knowledge test for cabs?

    • by pla ( 258480 )
      99.9% of people hailing a cab just want to get from point A to point B without walking. GPS has made that requirement nothing more than a historically cute, but completely pointless, barrier to entry.
    • "The knowledge" doesn't apply to minicabs [wikipedia.org]. Minicabs are services that you call in advance, rather than hail from the street, so they're more like the services provided by Uber's drivers.

      There's a good case for suggesting Uber can make minor modifications to its business to work in the London and the rest of the UK, largely by creating dispatch companies, and by registering with the appropriate authorities. Whether they're willing to do so however is another matter.

      • They are registered with Transport for London as a Minicab dispatcher. The difference is that with every other minicab operator, if you call them or use their app, and ask for a cab from for example The Royal Albert Hall to St Pancras Station, they will give you a price for the journey which you can accept or reject. If you accept it, that is the price you will pay for the journey. Über will use their not-a-taximeter thing to work out the actual distance and time taken, and bill you at the end of th

        • It sounds like Uber only needs to make minor modifications to its business structure, none that actually affect its core model, to accommodate London's rules on the subject. If they are breaking them, it sounds like it's pointless breaking-rules-for-the-sake-of-it rather than because they're genuinely in its way, like a bakery that refuses to list the ingredients on the package (but puts them on its website) because screw "The Man".
        • They are registered with Transport for London as a Minicab dispatcher.

          Well someone at TfL fucked up then, because we all know Uber is a ride sharing service, and nothing to do with minicabs.

  • by pla ( 258480 ) on Friday October 16, 2015 @04:25PM (#50746409) Journal
    Personally, I 100% support Uber because I firmly believe that if I want to hitch a ride with a complete stranger (whether for pay or just hitchhiking), I should have every right to do so.

    That said, Uber won this for a completely ridiculous reason. Whether or not a GPS counts as a "meter"? Seriously??? Why the hell do politicians insist on making laws-by-proxy, instead of just addressing what they really mean?

    Hey, what do I know? Why just say "Taxis require a special license", when you could instead ban private ownership of some obscure bit of hardware largely peripheral to the core task at hand?
    • Does it actually work like a meter though? Is it constantly running and incriminating the fare based on distance traveled or time? That's what a meter in a taxi does. If a phone is just calculating a route from the current location to the destination and deriving cost from that, it's not a meter. Just because they both determine the cost of a ride does not mean that they are equivalent.
    • Personally, I 100% support Uber because I firmly believe that if I want to hitch a ride with a complete stranger (whether for pay or just hitchhiking), I should have every right to do so.

      If that is the way you want things to be, then you need to petition your elected officials. In the mean time, it is not fair that all of the existing livery operators have to abide by the existing regulations and a new company does not. I mean, actually it DOES have to abide by those rules, it just chooses not to.

    • If Uber made sure its drivers had proper insurance and licensing, I'd feel a lot better about them.

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
      Here, a taxi meter is defined in law as a calibrated device that mechanically measures traveled distance of the vehicle.

      I have no idea what the definition is in London, but a GPS app can never legally be used as a meter here, so it would make sense that it would be ruled to not be a meter.
    • 'Why just say "Taxis require a special license"'

      Because you need to define what a taxi is... such as having a meter.

  • This whole lawsuit is a case of technicality, and commentary on it is often misguided because of confusing "meter" the verb and common noun with a "TaxiMeter", which is a specific thing. If Uber drivers had TaxiMeters in their cars, then the lawsuit is valid. Otherwise, not.
  • Maybe I'm getting old, but all these stories about uber remind me a lot of the fuss about napster back in the 2000's. And these where probably the same as everytime a new disruptive technology appears.

    Now, get over it. With the ability to instantaneously have a decentralized communication between someone needing a service and someone providing a service, all hopes of regulation are dead. Labor laws are dead, they've been rendered obsolete by the massively connected world. Uber is centralized, so you can pun

    • If a decentralized service comes up, drivers will have to collect the fares themselves, and will have to be busted individually if they don't have legally mandated licenses and/or insurance.

    • Labor laws are dead

      That's certainly what Uber and similar Silicon Valley fascists would like.

  • How is it "ridesharing" if you specifically call someone to come pick you up, take you to a specific destination they were not going to, give them money to compensate them for their time AND give them a tip, as well as rate them on their service?

    Uber is a taxi service and no amount of Russian-handwaving* will make it otherwise.

    *Russia claims it's not invading Ukraine yet it's lost nearly 2,000 troops who were "on vacation" in Ukraine, has barred the mothers of dead soldiers from speaking out about their son

    • by AK Marc ( 707885 )

      How is it "ridesharing" if you specifically call someone to come pick you up, take you to a specific destination they were not going to, give them money to compensate them for their time AND give them a tip, as well as rate them on their service?

      Up to paying more for the service than the service cost to provide, and rating them, the rest seems to be explicitly the definition of "ridesharing".

      • The definition of "ridesharing" typically involves a driver going somewhere for his or her own purposes and carrying a passenger from where the driver starts to where the driver is going, or more or less around the path the driver takes.

        If a driver is summoned to a particular place and transports someone to somewhere the driver would not have gone, that isn't ridesharing.

        • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
          So someone at The University of North Florida who isn't planning on going home this weekend (to Miami) sees a post for a ride share to Miami, offering $50 for fuel, and decides to accept the ride share. It's no longer a ride share because the person wouldn't have gone there at that time, except for the offer or a share and payment?
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Why would one want to use the services of charlatans?? They are more expensive than a taxi cab, or in some cases the good old black cab!
    I am voicing my negative experiences after using them a couple of times in central London, UK.
    My 2c

  • When Uber uses GPS to figure out the fare, is that your end fare for certain? If they decide to take a different route, is it possible for your fare to change? If so, then I would say that qualifies as metering. If they agree to take you from A to B for X and X cannot change, then I would definitely say that that is not metering. After all, the other livery companies have flat rate pricing which they manage to figure out. Probably using google (which uses GPS behind the scenes) or just using paper maps.
  • by thinkwaitfast ( 4150389 ) on Saturday October 17, 2015 @02:06AM (#50748475)
    or lawful evil?

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