It isn’t over till it’s Uber

It seems like only last week we were talking about Uber. Oh, hang on – it was only last week we were talking about Uber.

So the High Court has given its decision regarding the dispute between London’s black cabs and Uber. And what did it rule? Well, that a car, plus a smartphone and mobile app, as used by Uber drivers to send data to external servers (which determine the fare to be charged to passengers), is not fitted with a taximeter in the way that black cabs are. In other words, Uber is not operating a service based on the illegal use of taximeters.

Depending on your point of view (or, perhaps, where you get your news from), this is either a victory for common sense or a public transport catastrophe.

We prefer to think that it’s neither.

It seems to us that both sides have been fighting the wrong battle. Is public transport policy really to going to be driven by the interpretation of a technical piece of legislation? It’s perfectly possible, maybe even probable, that had the decision gone the other way there would have been a legislative amendment to follow fairly quickly. As it turns out, however, that won’t be necessary.

But there’s still every prospect that the Transport for London review will go ahead, and end in regulatory restrictions which will impact heavily on the operation of Uber. That’s a policy decision – as it should be – where the opposing lobbies will respectively be arguing for:

  • the maintenance of tough restrictions on private hire vehicles (including Uber); and
  • the opening of the market to disruptive technology and wider consumer choice.

Given that support for both sides can be found at high levels of government, this one – like a meter in a traffic jam – looks set to run and run.

One point that’s under consideration in the review is the prohibition on the Uber app from showing the availability of nearby cars, and another is the imposition of a minimum 5 minute waiting time. That last part is going to get would-be passengers talking. How many people in need of transport will be happy to think that though there may be a car nearby to get them home, it’ll have to hover about before it’s allowed to pick them up?

Speaking of which…


How’s that for a segue? (And how’s that for a dreadful pun?)

The other big transport story of the week is that the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) have declared to be illegal the use of ‘hoverboards’ on roads. And pavements. On the one hand because they can’t be registered as road vehicles, and on the other because they’re powered vehicles. For the moment, this would appear to rule them out as effective modes of transport.

As we know, hoverboards differ from hoverflies, hovercraft and hovermowers in one important respect: they don’t actually hover. Perhaps if they did, there might possibly be a case for saying that they’re not vehicles at all, and therefore should be unregulated. It’s just a thought..

But as it is, don’t despair: if you’re lucky enough to own one of these whizzy conveyances, you can still use them in various parks, and on private land with a suitably enlightened owner. So we suggest that you pack up your hoverboard, jump in your private hire vehicle of choice and head off to the park, where you can scoot, skate, roll or hover (or whatever the correct term is) to your heart’s content and the delight of your fellow leisure-seekers.

Of course, you also need the physical co-ordination to stay upright on one. Yes, we know that they’re “self-balancing” – but so are horses, and you can’t tell us that no-one has ever fallen off one of those.

Simplify the Law

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