Uber Drivers' Lawsuit Asks If London Congestion Charge Is Racist

(Bloomberg) -- London’s Uber Technologies Inc. drivers can bring a racial-discrimination lawsuit against the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan, a judge ruled Thursday, as a new front opened in a long-running battle between those working for the ride-hailing firm and the city’s traditional cabbies.

A union representing Uber drivers, as well as minicabs, won permission to challenge Khan’s decision to force those groups -- but not the capital’s iconic black cabs -- to pay the London congestion charge. The charge, a daily fee of 11 pounds and 50 pence ($15.13) to drive in the city center on weekdays, is due to be imposed on them from April 8.

The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain, which represents the drivers facing the new levy, says it amounts to racial discrimination. Eighty-eight percent of black-cab drivers are white, while 94 percent of those driving rival private vehicles such as Ubers and minicabs are from minority backgrounds, the union said in its filings for a court hearing Thursday. It estimates the levy will cut the average London private-hire driver’s salary to 26,337 pounds per year from 29,097, while black-cab drivers will be unaffected.

It’s the latest case where the rivalry between Uber drivers and those who drive the city’s famous Hackney carriages has spilled from the city’s streets to its courtrooms. In February a group of traditional cab drivers tried unsuccessfully to challenge Uber’s operating license in the city.

Black-cab drivers spend years studying for the London transport regulator’s tough "knowledge" tests -- which require extensive recall of the city’s road network -- and have been hurt by the proliferation of Uber drivers. Black-cab drivers have previously staged protests on the city’s streets about the ride-hailing firm, bringing traffic to a standstill.

A spokeswoman for the Mayor of London’s office said before the ruling Thursday that extending the congestion charge to Uber and minicab drivers is “an important part of our plans to both reduce congestion and to protect Londoners from harmful emissions.”

A spokesman for the IWGB said a two-day trial will start on July 9, but didn’t comment further.

Wheelchairs

“Clearly this requirement is not on its face racially discriminatory,” the mayor’s lawyer Martin Chamberlain said in court, ahead of judge Clive Lewis’ ruling that the case can proceed. Khan decided not to charge black cab drivers because he didn’t want to reduce the supply of cars available to wheelchair users, Chamberlain said. The traditional, box-shaped, cabs are wheelchair-accessible while most minicabs and Uber vehicles aren’t.

Khan weighed the policy’s impact on minority drivers against the potential benefits of the charge when deciding on the levy, his court filings said.

The union also argued the levy would hit female minicab drivers, who are more likely than their male counterparts to work part-time.

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