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Uber under fire again as ‘legacy’ London car hire firms lawyer up

Fri 2 Oct 2015

The London Private Hire Car Association (LPHCA), currently ranged against Uber’s rising popularity in the UK capital, has engaged a firm of notable legal consultants to present its case against the erosion of London’s traditional Black Cab and minicab services by Uber’s growing legion of London-based ‘ride-sharers’.

Business Insider has seen copies of documents submitted by the Clifford Chance legal agency to the Greater London Authority’s Transport Committee from private car hire company Addison Lee, outlining the principal complaints in this latest urban battlefront for the $40bn+ San Francisco-based company. The documents include evidence seen by London’s overseeing transport body, Transport For London (TFL) in June of this year.

The LPHCA represents 15,000 London minicab drivers in asking for a moratorium on the Uber app in the city until amendments are made about how Uber is allowed to operate there – changes in regulation that are likely to level the playing field to an extent which Uber normally only offers in ‘transitional’ periods with the most intractable of the besieged cities that it invades.

The document contends a number of points about Uber in London, the first of which is that the company provides inadequate insurance, which Clifford Chance submit puts the public at risk. Uber drivers insure themselves, and only present their insurance documents at sign-up with the app scheme, and the submission argues that the lack of continuous monitoring of the insurance status of Uber drivers leaves the public exposed to accidents that are without cover. In practice there have been no examples that indicate Uber drivers abandon insurance after having presented it. The document also contends that Uber retains an unfair advantage in being able to operate without the significant overhead of fleet-wide insurance which other private car hire companies are obliged to fulfil.

Secondly the list rounds upon a veritable Goliath of a subject, and one which extends far beyond Uber into the likes of Amazon’s clash with the EU over its sweetheart deal with Luxembourg – the fact that Uber’s UK income is run through a Dutch subsidiary company and therefore avoids point-of-sale VAT charges. Predictably Uber respond to this with the no-doubt-true disclaimer that it complies with all necessary tax laws. If Clifford Chance could get a ban for Uber on this particular point, it would change the course of Europe’s economical model.

Thirdly the submission accuses Uber drivers of loitering: ‘As a direct consequence of the flaws in Uber’s operating model Uber drivers loiter, ply for hire, park illegally and create a public nuisance in areas of high demand such as at airports and stations, undermining London’s profile as one of the safest taxi markets in the world.’

Further Clifford Chance present a case that Uber drivers taking ad hoc bookings without an operator’s licence is ‘in breach of the law’ and unsafe. This seems to be a bit of a blanket accusation, given the huge variance in compliance that Uber negotiates in its incursions.

It goes on in this manner. Responding in general to the Clifford Chance list of demands, Uber commented “We’re not surprised by the points raised in the LPHCA submission…These accusations are simply repetitions of previous complaints, all of which have been addressed numerous times.”

Readers curious to get the inside view from London Uber drivers should take a browse around that fascinating haven of discontent and astroturfing that is uberpeople.net, where the company often plants its own responses to controversial issues among its grumbling serfs. Of the current discord between ‘legacy’ London car services, TFL and the rise of the itinerant Uber ‘sharer’, an official release to Uberpeople underlings reads:

We are replying to TfL’s consultation to make sure that you, and all the drivers using the Uber platform, can continue to operate in London. We are working hard to ensure your interests as a driver are protected.

I have asked the Mayor of London to meet with us. We are also talking to politicians across the city.

[…] Uber in London is here to stay.

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