A group of minicab and Uber drivers have started legal action against the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, because they say the new congestion charge rules are discriminatory.
Ubers and other private hire vehicles lost their exemption to the £11.50 congestion charge in December, but they don't have to start paying it until April. Black cabs have remained exempt.
The drivers say the ruling is discriminatory on the basis of race, because 94% of private hire drivers are from BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) backgrounds. Black cab drivers are, ironically, majority white British.
The changes in congestion charge exemptions are due to the fact the Mayor is trying to clean up the manky air in London, and says private hire vehicles are one of the big reasons it's so bad. Uber has implemented a "clean air fee" to help its drivers go electric, but it's paid entirely by the customer.
The congestion charge, in turn, will be covered by the drivers themselves -- Uber driver Abdurzak Hadi told the BBC that the new rules mean he'll be losing about £60 a week. He can't pass the cost on to customers because Uber sets the prices, and as with the clean air fee, Uber isn't footing any of the bill itself despite having all the money and power here.
The legal claim is being brought by the Independent Workers' Union of Great Britain (IWGB) on behalf of private hire drivers. They've sent a letter before action to the mayor, setting out their argument that the congestion charge is indirectly discriminatory according to the Equality Act 2010. The government website defines indirect discrimination as:
"Putting rules or arrangements in place that apply to everyone, but that put someone with a protected characteristic at an unfair disadvantage."
Protected characteristics under the Act are age, gender reassignment, being married or in a civil partnership, being pregnant or on maternity leave, disability, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation and – pertinently to this case – "race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin."
Under that definition, you can see how there's an argument there.
IWGB general secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee comments:
"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."
Meanwhile, the Mayor's office issued a statement saying:
"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 simply isn't prepared to ignore the damaging impact this has on congestion and increasing air pollution. [...]
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."
Khan's office also mentioned that only a third of private hire drivers even go into the congestion charging zone, so it won't affect all of them. Nonetheless, we imagine that's little comfort for those that do.