Uber and other minicab drivers are taking legal action against the mayor of London over plans to force them to pay the capital’s congestion charge, claiming that it constitutes racial discrimination.
As part of a scheme to reduce traffic in the heart of London, vehicles driving into the city centre have to pay an £11.50 daily charge. Licensed black cabs and private hire vehicles (PHVs) are exempt, but from April 8 this exemption will be lifted for PHVs, including Uber cars.
Some drivers have said that the cost would be crippling, leaving them with almost £60 a week extra to pay.
There are about 114,000 private hire drivers operating in London. Analysis by Transport for London (TfL) shows that of these drivers, 94 per cent who defined their ethnicity were from black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
TfL’s consultation document on proposed changes to the congestion charge found: “As the majority of private hire vehicle drivers . . . are from BAME backgrounds and many are from deprived areas, there is a disproportionate impact on these groups.”
The review concluded that the decision would have a “minor adverse” impact on private hire drivers.
The TfL analysis found that 88 per cent of licensed black cab drivers are white.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents those in the so-called gig economy, is seeking a judicial review of the move, claiming that it indirectly discriminates against minicab drivers from ethnic minorities.
The union wrote a “pre-action” letter to Sadiq Khan as Jason Moyer-Lee said that the plan was “both discriminatory and fundamentally unfair” and added: “We would urge the mayor to adopt one of the many alternative policies which would actually address congestion, instead of just penalising low-paid ethnic minority workers.”
The mayor’s office said that only a third of PHV drivers enter the congestion charge zone, but added: “The number of private hire vehicles entering the congestion charge zone has shot up from 4,000 a day in 2003, when it first came into operation, to more than 18,000 now.
“Sadiq Khan simply isn’t prepared to ignore the damaging impact this has on congestion and increasing air pollution. Congestion has a crippling impact on businesses across the capital . . . Removing the congestion charge exemption for private hire vehicles is a key part of our plans to both reduce congestion and to protect Londoners from harmful emissions from polluting vehicles.”
There were 59,000 licensed private hire drivers in London in 2009-10, almost doubling to 114,000 by 2017-18. Over the same period the number of black cab drivers has fallen from 25,000 to 24,000.
TfL’s analysis found that the move would force private hire drivers to pass the cost of the congestion charge on to their passengers and found that this would decrease private hire traffic in the city centre by 6 per cent. It added that this would only reduce overall traffic levels by 1 per cent, however.
The mayor’s office has said that congestion costs the London economy about £5.5 billion a year and said it takes an average of 45 minutes to drive 10km through the capital, adding that this will increase to 60 minutes by 2041.