The High Court has today held that use of the Uber app does not amount to plying for hire.

Reading Borough Council had prosecuted an Uber driver, Mr Ali, who had been waiting for his next booking on the Uber app. He was parked lawfully by the roadside and doing nothing to attract the attention of passers-by.

Read more about the background of this case

Lord Justice Flaux said in his judgement: “In my judgment, there was no unlawful plying for hire in this case for a number of reasons. First, the mere depiction of the respondent’s vehicle on the Uber App, without either the vehicle or the driver being specifically identified or the customer using the App being able to select that vehicle, is insufficient to establish exhibition of the vehicle in the sense in which that phrase is used by Lord Parker CJ in formulating the two stage test for plying for hire in Cogley v Sherwood and Rose v Welbeck. That requires not just exhibition of the vehicle but its exhibition expressly or implicitly soliciting custom, inviting members of the public to hire the vehicle.”

Flaux LJcontinued: “It seems to me that depiction of the vehicle on the App does not involve any exhibition of that kind, but is for the assistance of the Uber customer using the App, who can see that there are vehicles in the vicinity of the type he or she wishes to hire…If I ring a minicab firm and ask for a car to come to my house within five minutes and the operator says “I’ve got five cars round the corner from you. One of them will be with you in five minutes,” there is nothing in that transaction which amounts to plying for hire. As a matter of principle, I do not consider that the position should be different because the use of internet technology avoids the need for the phone call.

“Second, it does not seem to me that the position is different because, as between Uber and the driver, the latter is a principal and Uber is an agent. Whether this agency analysis is correct has not been finally decided. However, like the Chief Magistrate and contrary to Mr Holland’s submissions, I do not consider that it has any bearing on the issue in this case. On the findings she made as to how the Uber App works, the customer has to confirm the booking after he or she is given the fare estimate and the driver in turn has to accept the booking before either of them knows the identity of the other and before the car actually comes to the pick-up point.”

He ruled that as far as Uber’s model is concerned: “…there is a pre-booking by the customer, which is recorded by Uber as PHV operator, before the specific vehicle which will perform the job is identified. This is all in accordance with the transaction being PHV business, not unlawful plying for hire. There was no soliciting by the respondent without some prior booking, as he only proceeded to the pick-up point after the customer had confirmed the booking and the respondent as driver had accepted the job.”

The Court refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Stephen McCaffrey

Regulatory defence barrister specialising in taxi and private hire licensing law, appeals and defence.

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