LONDON — In the battle between Europe’s taxi drivers and the ride-sharing service Uber, score one for Uber.
On Thursday, London’s transport regulator said Uber, the West Coast technology startup that has faced protests in major cities across Europe from London to Madrid, can legally operate in the British capital.
The decision by Transport for London, or TfL, to allow Uber to continue operating in London is centered on the technology that powers the startup’s service. Under London’s taxi rules, only licensed black taxis can use meters in their vehicles to charge customers based on distance and time. The city’s licensed taxi drivers argued that Uber’s technology, which uses a smartphone-based technology to charge customers at the end of the journey, based on the length of their trip, broke this regulation.
But Transport for London disagrees. “Smartphones that transmit location information between vehicles and operators have no operational or physical connection with the vehicles,” the regulator said Thursday in a statement. The phones are “not taximeters within the meaning of the legislation,” it said.
TfL’s decision follows a regionwide protest by thousands of taxi drivers in Europe, who say they believe that Uber — which allows people to book taxis through a smartphone application — does not comply with local regulations and does not pay enough taxes in the cities where it operates. Earlier this week, cabbies in Madrid and Barcelona again took to the streets to protest Uber’s presence, although the service has yet to expand to the Spanish capital.
But this is not the final green light for Uber in London. To clarify whether Uber’s technology can be considered a meter, Transport for London said it was asking a British court to make a final ruling. That decision must now wait until legal cases brought by a London taxi union against six individual Uber drivers have been completed, the regulator added.
A London taxi union had brought the cases because it believes that the drivers’ use of Uber’s device to charge customers violates the city’s taxi licensing rules. Until the cases are heard, lUber can operate in the British capital.
“Using a meter in a private vehicle is a criminal matter,” said Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, who added that the cases against the Uber drivers would likely be heard in the autumn. “Our beef is with TfL, not Uber,” he said. “They are supposed to regulate the industry.”
Uber, which said it had seen more than an eight-fold increase in people signing up in Britain after the black cab protest last month, welcomed the London regulator’s decision.
In an apparent attempt to win over skeptical taxi drivers in London, Uber said it had opened its service so the city’s iconic black cabs could participate. But few drivers have taken up the offer, although a number of black cabs have started to appear on Uber’s smartphone application.
“Today is a victory for common sense,” Jo Bertram, Uber’s general manager for Britain and Ireland, said Thursday in a statement. “Uber on, London.”england - london - Europe - Western Europe - United Kingdom