London black cabs get break over rivals on bus lanes

AP News
Posted: Jan 14, 2015 11:22 AM
London black cabs get break over rivals on bus lanes

LONDON (AP) — London's iconic black cabs, under pressure from taxi app Uber and other upstarts, got some good news Wednesday: They won't have to share their right to drive in the capital's bus lanes with rivals.

The city's expensive black cabs benefit from a rule that allows them to move around quickly by using lanes set aside for buses. Rivals, such as Uber cars or cheaper taxis known as minicabs, are banned from the lanes.

That rule was challenged by private taxi firm Addison Lee, which has long argued that it amounted to unfair state support.

But a European Union court sided with black cab drivers in a ruling, dismissing arguments that the bus lane policy violated European competition laws.

The Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice said the policy did not use state resources to confer "a selective economic advantage" on London cabs. It also said that black cabs are not comparable to their rivals, because only black cabs can pick up customers without pre-booking.

"Drivers of black cabs are subject to strict standards in relation to their vehicles, their fares and their knowledge of London, whereas those standards do not apply to minicabs," the ruling said.

Transport for London, the authority overseeing public transport in the city, has argued that allowing tens of thousands of minicabs to drive in bus lanes would impact the reliability of bus services.

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The ruling goes some way in protecting the traditional black cabs from competitors, especially smartphone-based services such as Uber and Hailo. London cabbies have reacted in fury to the apps' entrance into the market, staging noisy protests that brought traffic to a standstill.

Unlike their rivals, black cab drivers are self-employed, and most own their vehicle. Many cabbies take pride in their knowledge of London's streets — all cabbies must pass a test called "the Knowledge" — and most say that drivers from rival firms are not as professional.

Addison Lee can still appeal Wednesday's ruling in British courts.