Uber targeted with $300m lawsuit from London black cab drivers

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Uber is facing a nine-figure lawsuit from London’s black cab drivers, marking a dramatic turn in the long-running feud between the ride-hailing app and cabbies in the U.K. capital.

A suit representing 10,500 drivers will be filed in London’s High Court Thursday, claiming Uber improperly obtained a license to operate in the capital from Transport for London (TfL) in 2012.

RGL Management, a litigation firm representing the drivers, is chasing Uber for £250 million ($313 million) in damages, which it says equates to a payday of £25,000 ($31,000) each, if successful.

“Uber seems to believe it is above the law and cabbies across London have suffered loss of earnings because of it,” Garry White, a 36-year black cab veteran, said in a statement issued by RGL. 

“It is time they were held to account.”

The group reportedly first threatened to bring a claim against Uber in 2019, but did not move forward after a conversation with the ride-hailing app’s lawyers. However, RGL now feels it has adequate grounds stating that Uber had unlawfully taken business from black cab drivers.

A spokesperson for Uber told Fortune: “These old claims are completely unfounded. Uber operates lawfully in London, is fully licensed by TfL, and is proud to serve millions of passengers and drivers across the capital.”

The Knowledge

The relationship between Uber and London has been tempestuous to say the least.

Drivers of black cabs, also known as “hackney cabs” go through one of the world’s most rigorous testing processes in order to obtain a license, called the “Knowledge.” 

London cabbies have been forced to learn by heart the city’s 25,000 streets and each of their key landmarks, revising for between three and four years before sitting the test. 

Many saw the arrival of Uber and their GPS-wielding drivers more than a decade ago as unfair to those who had developed these niche skills.

Uber’s proponents, however, felt it offered more choice and convenience for consumers in the city’s pricey transport market. 

The same tensions have been felt across Europe, often boiling over into tussles with regulators. Denmark and Bulgaria forced the app to withdraw altogether, for example, while the city of Barcelona imposed a 15-minute wait on hailing Ubers to protect the local taxi trade.

In London, TfL decided in 2017 not to renew Uber’s license to operate, partly over concerns about the conditions endured by gig economy workers.

In a statement at the time, TfL said Uber “is not fit and proper to hold a private hire operator license,” citing inadequate background checks on drivers and failing to report criminal incidents to police.

The ban never came into force, however, despite a second attempt by TfL in 2019, after Uber assuaged regulators’ concerns following the departure of combative co-founder Travis Kalanick. In November last year, the company announced that riders would be able to hail black cabs in London on the platform from early 2022, but that announcement also bristled with cabbies. 

Steve McNamara, general secretary of the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association, told Bloomberg no taxi groups had been informed of the move before it was announced. 

“We have no interest in sullying the name of London’s iconic, world-renowned black cab trade by aligning it with Uber, its poor safety record and everything else that comes with it,” he said.

Representatives for RGL Management and TfL didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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