Uber app is not plying for hire

07 Feb 2019


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.

The Council, however, said that the depiction of an icon of his vehicle on the Uber app was plying for hire because it signalled to potential customers that he was available for hire.

The Chief Magistrate disagreed and acquitted Mr Ali. The Council appealed by way of case stated but its appeal has been dismissed.

Lord Justice Flaux gave three reasons why this was not plying for hire.

First, the authorities establish that there has to be exhibition of the vehicle in a way which invites members of the public to hire the vehicle. However, the depiction of the vehicle on the App is just 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. It is the modern equivalent of a private hire operator telling a customer on the phone that there are vehicles a few minutes away.

Second, the Council had laid stress on Uber’s terms and conditions which show the driver to be the principal in a contract with the passenger. The High Court agreed with the Chief Magistrate that this was irrelevant. Whatever the precise contractual analysis, it remained a private hire booking through the operator.

Third, the character of the waiting was inconsistent with plying for hire. Mr Ali was not soliciting custom. If a member of the public had approached the vehicle and sought a ride, he would have refused to take such a passenger off the street without a prior booking through the Uber app.

The Court refused permission to appeal to the Supreme Court. A copy of the judgment is here.

Mr Ali was represented by Philip Kolvin QC, instructed by Woods Whur.

Philip Kolvin QC is Head of Chambers at Cornerstone Barristers and the leader of its licensing team.