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Acquiring a foothold in London has certainly proved a challenge for Uber, the ride-hailing tech company. Established taxi companies have railed against what they perceive as unregulated drivers, employees have taken the business to employment tribunals demanding permanent staff benefits and the company recently went to court against Transport for London (TfL) who claimed the app was a taximeter. Having won that legal battle, Uber may soon find itself facing a judge again as the startup has challenged TfL’s newly proposed set of rules.
Among the points of contention are a requirement for companies like Uber to notify TfL of any changes they plan to make in advance, the need for a London-based call centre and the introduction of a new English test for taxi drivers applying for or renewing a private-hire license. While Uber backed TfL’s initial call for foreign-born drivers to be proficient English speakers, the company withdrew its support after TfL changed the rules by adding a two-hour written test – which will cost £200 to sit. Drivers from English-speaking nations such as Jamaica and Australia will be exempt – a policy Uber is expected to challenge soon under the Equality Act.
Describing the legal action as “a last resort”, Tom Elvidge, Uber’s general manager for London, commented: “The goalposts have moved at the last minute and new rules are now being introduced that will be bad for both drivers and tech companies like Uber.”
Meanwhile TfL argued that it is introducing the measure to help drivers communicate with passengers and understand safety and travel rules better, with a spokesman saying that the body “will be robustly defending” the new regulations.
TfL has the backing of Uber’s competitors Addison Lee and Gett, which welcome the proposed rules. Andy Boland, chief executive at Addison Lee, was baffled by Uber’s opposition to the rules: “The whole industry was fully involved in the consultation and there is a strong belief that they will benefit both passengers and drivers.”
With both sides of the argument adopting such different stances after years of legal twists and turns, it is safe to say that the last word in the battle for London’s ride-sharing market has yet to be spoken.