Monday August 7 2017 25 London Metropolitan Taxis from the LCDC  played a visit to the city to 'Challenge The App'    Download full report here
On Monday August 8 2017 around 25 Metropolitan London taxis came to Brighton & Hove joining up with the local trade to challenge the inner workings of the Uber app.

Background

The inner workings of the Uber Britannia Limited Customer ‘App’ has been shrouded in mystery with UBL refusing to fully reveal how it functions when directly questioned at each Brighton & Hove Taxi Trade Forum meeting and pretty much by every other interested party as well.

However... with the council granting Uber Britannia Limited an ‘Operators Licence’ to work in the city then for all intentions and purposes the council must surely deem the ‘App’ as being legal?

The council granted UBL an’ Operators Licence’ in 2015.

At the Brighton & Hove Taxi Trade Forum meeting in July 2017 questions by the trade were put to Mr Fred Jones of UBL about how the ‘App’ functioned but he refused to discuss this.

However the reps from Streamline Taxis .. City Cabs and Radio Cabs were willing to discuss their apps and booking systems.

Uber supposedly only uses private hire cars and not hackney carriages (although this is questionable as they bring in hackney carriage taxis from outside their respective licensing areas to work as ph in other areas )... and such private hire cars are not allowed to be ‘hailed’ in the street... the same as hackney carriages who are not in their own licensing authority. This is what the law states.

From reports available it is widely believed that the ‘Uber App’ simply connects the customer to the driver which is effectively a 'Direct Street Hail'.

A ‘Street Hail’ is unlawful for private hire cars.

Other such cab apps... which the Brighton & Hove taxi companies in the city have.... do not use ‘Direct Street hailing’ App systems and any customer ordering  a cab via those Apps have their bookings properly booked into their respective systems FIRST...  and correctly recorded on  their systems and only then dispatches the job to the nearest appropriate car.

Planned Peaceful Demonstration

The purpose of the visit of around 25 Metropolitan London Taxis was to demonstrate a specific ‘App’ that they use whilst ‘Plying for Hire’ in London would also work outside of London such is in Brighton & Hove.

This ‘App’ is a ‘Direct Hailing App’ which for London hackney carriages in London is perfectly legal.


However  these Metropolitan London Taxis are legally only allowed to use this type of ‘App’  when ‘Plying for Hire’ in London.

They are not allowed to ‘Ply for Hire’ outside of London. This is the same as any hackney carriage in other areas who are limited to ‘Ply for Hire’ in the streets in their respective licensing authority areas.

The purpose of the ‘visit’ is to challenge Brighton & Hove Council on how the ‘Uber App’ system works.

If one of these Metropolitan London taxis makes themselves available on their ‘App’ in Brighton & Hove... and if a member of the public had the customer ‘App’ on their mobile and requested a taxi.... and if one of those Metropolitan London taxis accepted that booking request then that Metropolitan London taxi has acted illegally and could have their hackney carriage licence revoked.

A test was carried out on that specific ‘App’ to see if it worked outside of London and it worked in Brighton & Hove....

The intention of the demo is to ‘alert’ Brighton & Hove City Council to Metropolitan London taxis possibly ‘Plying for Hire’ in the city which is illegal.. much the same as the way the ‘Uber App’ is believed to work and to see what reaction the council would have to this.

Of course it was never the intention for any of these visiting London cabby’s to ‘Ply for Hire’ in the city in any shape or form as they are ‘Fit and proper’ to hold their licenses. But it was purely a staged event of what could happen in theory in the future.

At this point it is stated that if Uber Britannia Limited disagrees with how the consensus of the actual workings of their ‘App’ is generally perceived  by a great many individuals and other interested parties is incorrect... then a correction will certainly be made
The Objective

The ultimate aim of the demo is to achieve clarification as to what is a 'Booking App' and what is a 'Direct Hailing App'.

In Brighton & Hove we have
• Vehicle compliance (enhanced MOT) for our cabs
• Enhanced DBS checks and medicals for drivers
• Meter specifications (hackneys)
• Vehicle age limits for both hackney carriages and private hire vehicles
• Council specification compulsory CCTV with compliance requirements
• On the street spot checks via Enforcement Officers

So why doesn’t the trade have enhanced specifications requirement for the dispatch systems that Licensed Operators use to ensure that such systems comply with  both the ‘London Private Hire Act 1998’ and the ‘Local Government Miscellaneous Act 1976’....which would include any accompanying ‘App’?

It really is that simple...  and when any Licensed Operator decides to upgrade or change systems then they would know exactly what they were purchasing/leasing.

The Demo

The visit by these 25 or so Metropolitan London taxis was headed by London taxi drivers Chris Johnson and Len Etheridge.


The convoy of London taxis met just outside Brighton by a local taxi driver and Secretary of the GMB Brighton & Hove Taxi Section Andy Peters who led them onto Hove Town Hall.

They arrived outside the Town hall at about 1pm and it was a fantastic sight to see all the London cabs parked up.

Sitting outside in his London cab LCDC rep Chris Johnson then phoned Jim Whitelegg - Head of Licensing but he was not available. However an HCO officer came outside and spoke to Chris and Andy who explained the reason as to why they were there and Chris also explained that he had previously been in touch with Jim Whitelegg putting the following points forward:

“What is an "app job", a plying for hire job, or a pre booking?

A brief outline of the legislation.

(1) Hackney Carriages (Taxis) licensed in London with TfL can 'ply for hire' only in London - (ply for hire = be hailed/wait on ranks and accept immediately jobs)

(2) Hackney Carriages (Taxis) licensed in London with TfL can accept  pre-booked jobs anywhere in England & Wales, irrespective of where they are physically located (if a driver has just completed a job from Charing Cross to Brighton & (s)he receives a pre-booking in Brighton for a job back to London, the driver can legally accept this.

(3) Points 1&2 are applicable to all Hackney Carriages licensed with any authority, so a Liverpool licensed Hackney Carriage can only ply for hire (immediate jobs) in Liverpool, but can accept a pre-bookings anywhere in England & Wales (pre-bookings isn't classified "what it is" anywhere in legislation)

(4) Case law supports the above: Stockton v Fidler.

(5) Private Hire cannot "ply for hire" this is illegal, Reading Council is prosecuting Uber Drivers for illegally "plying for hire" the case is focusing on the app and the vehicles being on "exhibition" and available for immediate hire - is this plying for hire via an app, or a pre-booking?

(6) Point 5 sets up what is Philip Kolvin QC's role with Uber (Khan's chair of the night-time Commission).  

(7) If an app Job is a "pre booking" job then there are no rules, taxi's & private hire can work anywhere in England & Wales and "home" licensing authorities are powerless to carry out checks on "away" vehicles/drivers - this is what happened in Rotherham.

(8) If an app job is a "plying for hire" job then taxi's can only accept the job when they are located in their "home" authority.

Note: this is important, If an app job is deemed a "plying for hire job" - a taxi driver can still accept an app job from Brighton to London - BUT THE DRIVER WOULD HAVE TO ACCEPT THE JOB WHILE IN LONDON & PHYSICALLY DRIVE TO BRIGHTON TO PICK THE CUSTOMER UP, WAITING FOR THE PING IN BRIGHTON WOULD BE ILLEGALLY PLYING FOR HIRE.

(9) If an app job is deemed a "plying for hire" job then Uber is illegal - private hire can only accept pre bookings.

(10) If TfL (or Brighton Council) don't know what an "app job" is, then shouldn't they apply to the courts for a judgement prior to licensing? “
We then noticed at that point the Town Hall doors were locked and security personnel arrived on the scene.

Perhaps they thought that all the London cabby’s would invade the Town Hall?

However there was never any thought of this at all and the London boys were very content to wait outside enjoying the sun with some good old friendly banter and fortunately there was a mobile burger van nearby which kept everyone very happy.

Eventually Brighton & Hove City Council Chief Executive Geoff Raw kindly came outside and we had a brief chat and the LCDC reps Chris Johnson and Len Etheridge along with the GMB reps Steve Garelick and Andy Peters were invited in where a good discussion took place for about 30 minutes.

After this the convoy left and drove through the city to the Brighton Racecourse where a meeting was arranged with Tony Breslin/Radio Cabs... Andrew Cheesman/City Cabs and John Streeter/ Streamline ... along with local TV cameras to greet the arrivals.

Refreshments were served and then a Chris Johnson... Len Etheridge... Steve Garelick... John Streeter and other reps went to off to the local TV studios to carry out interviews and filming in the street.

The others stayed at the meeting where a general discussion took place about the major issues that both the City of London and City of Brighton & Hove...and indeed other licensing authorities face with Uber such as:
• Uber TfL drivers sleeping in their cars (photos and video available)
• PH (alien)  cars from as far as Edinburgh ... Leeds.. Sefton... Birmingham... Portsmouth.. Southampton and Reigate to name just a few areas working in Brighton & Hove without the need to have expensive CCTV as insisted by the Council in Brighton & Hove licensed hackney carriage and ph vehicles
• No Enforcement on these ‘Alien’ private hire drivers.
• Uber drivers from TfL and other areas driving the wrong way in one way streets.
• An Uber TfL minicab seized by the police for no insurance
• Questionable valid insurance on TfL minicabs when checking this online.
• TfL minicabs using ‘Bus and Taxi lanes’ when there are not allowed to because they are licensed under the ‘London Private Act 1998’ and not the ‘Local Government Miscellaneous Act 1976’

It was very clear that whilst London and  Brighton & Hove  face different issues there is one common factor that affects the whole of the country which is the question on the legality of the ‘Uber App’ connecting the customer directly with the driver and until there is a clear definition of what a ‘Direct Hailing App’ and a ‘Booking App’ is then it is all smoke and mirrors.


The three major taxi companies in the city.. Streamline... Radio Cabs and City Cabs all have dispatch systems and Apps. All three of the ‘Apps’ are proper ‘Booking Apps’ which FIRSTLY books the job into their respective systems and then SECONDLY dispatches the job onto the best available driver.


The LCDC... GMB Professional Drivers Branch ... GMB Brighton & Hove Taxis Section.. Streamline.. Radio Cabs and City Cabs call for the definition of cab/taxi Apps to clarify the inner workings of all such Apps to define what is a ‘Direct Hailing App’ and what is a ‘Booking App’

Smoke and Mirrors should not be used to blur the law.

Apps should adhere to the law. Apps should not break the law.

All in all it was a grand day out and fantastic to see the London boys come down to the city having taken time off work to be here to show strength in numbers.

We are sure that if the call is made for the Brighton & Hove taxi trade to return the favour.... we will be there for you!

Thanks to everyone who gave their time and energy to the cause...

Andrew Peters
Secretary
GMB Brighton & Hove Taxi Section
August 8 2017
Click on images to enlarge