London cab drivers are banding together in a potential group legal action against ridesharing app Uber for damages and loss of earnings reportedly totalling more than £500m.
Unite’s Cab Section is encouraging its members who are registered with Transport for London (TfL) to sign up to take part in the legal action, which is being handled by law firm Mishcon de Reya and will be fully funded by litigation funding firm Harbour.
Unite and other organisations involved in the potential legal action, including the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), United Cabbies Group (UCG), and London Cab Drivers Club (LCDC), among others, argue that cab drivers have suffered losses to their earnings over the five years that Uber broke regulations in the capital, between 2012 to 2017.
“It’s been well-documented that London cab drivers have seen a substantial loss of earnings over the last five years, at least by about a third – and this is linked directly to unfair competition that Uber itself has admitted,” said Unite National Taxi Committee chair Mike Hedges. “It’s only right that if people are losing money because a company has been doing something illegal, then that company should pay the money back.”
London cab drivers, including those who are not trade union members, are eligible to join Cabbie Group Action at no financial risk to themselves whatsoever. The litigation funding firm will cover all legal costs in the potential action, whether cab drivers win or lose.
“At this stage of the process there’s no commitment from drivers – all they’re being asked to do now is register their interest saying they’d like to be part of the action,” Hedges explained.
“In our view, we recommend that members register their interest because, first of all, it’s the right thing to be repaid for loss of earnings, and secondly we’ve met with the law firm, asked the relevant questions and have determined there is no risk to our drivers. Lastly, the greater number of cab drivers who sign up, the more feasible the group action becomes and the more likely it is that a quicker settlement is reached.”
Licence renewal ‘beggars belief’
News of the legal action comes as Uber was granted a 15-month probationary operating licence in the capital last month, after its licence was removed by TfL last September. At an appeal hearing in June, Uber admitted that it had operated outside TfL’s regulatory framework since 2012 – it agreed with TfL over its concerns including Uber’s failure to report serious crime such as sexual assault and the way it conducted background checks on drivers, among other issues.
The ridesharing firm vowed that it would clean up its act, and convinced Westminster magistrates that it had implemented enough reforms that it could continue to operate under a limited probationary licence.
But Unite believes these reforms are far from being enough to be able to ever trust Uber again.
“This isn’t the first time that Uber has lied, cheated and tried to evade regulations,” Hedges said, as he explained the company’s use of the software Greyball, which enables the firm to deliberately ‘hide’ from regulators. “They lie and cheat all the time, all over the world.”
“This is the same company that when passengers were sexually assaulted and harassed in vehicles and passengers reported it to Uber, the company did nothing – they essentially covered it up,” he added. “How any company can get a licence back after all that simply beggars belief. That the firm was only given a 15-month licence – it asked for an 18-month licence but this was denied – doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.”
Fair competition call
Unite Cab Section rep Peter Rose explained other ways in which Uber has simply ignored regulations.
“They haven’t been following regulations to the letter of the law – this has happened many times,” he told Sky News this morning. “Telephone lines are a requirement, premises are a requirement, planning permission is a requirement under the [Private Hire Vehicles] Act 1998 – all of those were ignored by Uber.”
Responding to criticism from Institute of Economic Affairs research fellow Rebecca Lowe, who claimed cab drivers were taking part in the legal action because they simply didn’t like competition, Rose said that Unite objects only to competition that’s unfair.
“I’ve been competing with 25,000 cab drivers my entire cab driving career,” he said. “I’ve also been competing with other private hire services apart from Uber and all those private hire services have managed to conduct their business in a fair and reasonable manner and have always adhered to the rules.”
He pointed out that apps in and of themselves are a as a technology more than welcome – if they are developed within regulations, such as Addison Lee’s app.
Hedges vowed that Unite will continue to hold Uber and other companies like it to account. He highlighted another Unite campaign lobbying for a National Cab Act that aims to close many of the loopholes that Uber now exploits, such as cross-border hiring which the police themselves have called “the biggest threat to policing nationally.”
“They can’t come and just make up their own rules,” Hedges said of Uber. “They have to operate within the framework that everyone else operates within.
“There should be no profit without responsibility.”
If you’re a registered London cab driver and believe you should be compensated for loss of earnings from Uber, register your interest with the Cabbies Group Action here.