One smartphone app has managed to draw the ire of taxi companies around the world. The app is called Uber, and despite recently winning a case in London courts, it now faces litigation in Maryland.
Uber is an app-based taxi service in which users request a ride through the app, and a nearby car is notified of the pickup location. Uber navigates to the destination and calculates a price based on current demand. The customer then pays for the ride through the app.
Uber's design allows it to skirt around many of the laws that regulate taxi companies. Conducting all metering and transactions through a smartphone means, under some laws, that Uber avoids being identified as a taxi company at all, and is not subject to the fees required to operate. In most cases, taxi companies are fighting not to shut Uber down, but to level the playing field, making Uber pay the fees required of other taxi companies.The first legal battle, played out in London, found in favor of Uber.
"TfL's view is that smart phones that transmit location information (based on GPS data) between vehicles and operators, have no operational or physical connection with the vehicles, and receive information about fares which are calculated remotely from the vehicle, are not taximeters within the meaning of the legislation," says Transport for London in a statement.
The battle is not over, however. More than 30 taxi companies in Maryland are participating in a joint lawsuit against Uber, claiming its automated demand-based pricing is comparable to price-fixing, and its non-compliance with regulations governing other taxi companies creates an unfair marketplace. Uber said that it may cease service in Maryland entirely if forced to follow normal taxi regulations, however the company is continuing to fight the lawsuit for now.
"I can tell you that Uber will vigorously defend the rights of riders to enjoy competition and choice, and drivers to build their own small businesses," said spokesman Taylor Bennet.
With Uber available in 39 countries, it may soon be facing legal battles in each one of them as traditional taxi services may claim to be harmed by Uber's ability to operate without paying the same fees.