Union to fight on after losing court appeal over London minicab Congestion Charge fee

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

Image credit: IWGB (Twitter)

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) will continue to campaign for the scrapping of the congestion charge on London minicabs, following the decision by the Court of Appeal that the disproportionate impact this charge has on BAME drivers does not constitute indirect discrimination.

The union claims the decision is disappointing to drivers who are currently facing the combined financial pressures of 'unscrupulous operators', the congestion charge and a fall in demand as a result of COVID-19.

On 22 June the congestion charge was increased by 30 percent to £15 per day. In April last year the London Mayor removed the Congestion Charge exemption previously enjoyed by the private hire sector. Private hire vehicles that are wheelchair accessible remain exempt from the charges.

Despite the setback, the IWGB says drivers' determination to fight this charge has not waned. A protest last week opposing the charge, the first since the pandemic began, amassed around 100 drivers at Tower Bridge. Protests are now being planned for the coming months.

Henry Chango Lopez, IWGB President, said: “The court confirmed what we have stated all along, that the Mayor's decision had a disproportionate impact on black minority ethnic minicab drivers. Sadly, it did not consider that the congestion charge on minicabs was unlawful.

“While this is a setback, we are determined to continue fighting against this policy, which is having a crushing impact on some of the most marginalised workers in London.”

In her judgement, Lady Justice Simler stated that: “This significant disparity of impact between black and minority ethnic minicab drivers on low incomes on the one hand and white taxi drivers on the other is stark and has raised legitimate questions about the measure adopted by the Mayor. It has made this appeal particularly troubling.”

She went on to say: “The Mayor (and Transport for London) plainly recognised the adverse impact on minicab drivers, 71% of whom live in the most deprived areas of London, with mean annual earnings less than £23,000 per annum net.”

Chancellor of the High Court Sir Geoffrey Vos said he also agreed with the ruling. Vos added: “I too found the case troubling.

“At first sight, the measure adopted by the Mayor looked as if it might have been targeted at (mostly BAME) minicab drivers who are deprived of the exemption, leaving (mostly white) taxi drivers exempt from the congestion charge.

“It seemed to us, as we have now held, that stringent scrutiny would be required to justify such a state of affairs.

“On careful analysis, however, I have been persuaded that appearances were indeed deceptive.

“First, there is no real doubt that the Mayor’s overwhelming and legitimate aim was to reduce traffic and congestion in the zone.

“Secondly, it became clear that the only effective way of doing so would be to address the exponential rise both in the absolute number of minicab drivers operating in London and in those entering the zone. Fewer private cars and taxis were doing so, but minicabs continued to increase.

“Thirdly, there was no purpose in interfering with the exemption accorded to taxis, because taxis provide unique advantages to Londoners. They allow wheelchair-bound passengers to travel and are required to carry passengers under a raft of regulations that do not affect minicabs.

“In short, the measure and its discriminatory impact on BAME minicab drivers was, in my judgment, justified by the legitimate aim of reducing traffic, congestion and pollution.”

After the ruling the IWGB confirmed that a growing number of drivers are approaching the union citing increased levels of stress resulting from the charge and the impact it has had on their already meagre earnings.

The union has proposed alternatives to reduce congestion fairly, including a cap on the total number of private hire licences, making worker rights a condition of licence or a levy on private hire operators such as Uber.

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