Union to appeal against court ruling on congestion charge for minicab drivers

A trade union has vowed to appeal against a ruling that Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s decision to introduce the congestion charge for minicab drivers is not unlawfully discriminatory.

The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) claimed removing minicabs’ exemption from the £11.50 daily fee indirectly discriminates against a 94% black and minority ethnic (BAME) workforce.

The union argued Mr Khan’s decision, which came into effect in April, disproportionately affects BAME drivers, while drivers of London’s traditional black cabs – 88% of whom are white – remain exempt from the charge.

The IWGB also claimed the decision disproportionately affects women, who are more likely to work part-time, and disabled passengers, whom they claimed will be adversely affected by a reduction in the number of available minicabs.

But the High Court ruled on Wednesday that Mr Khan’s decision was “an appropriate and suitable method of reducing the number of vehicles in the congestion charge zone”.

Giving his judgment in London, Mr Justice Lewis said: “The aim that the defendant sought to pursue, namely achieving a reduction in the number of private hire vehicles in the congestion charge zone, is a legitimate one adopted as a measure of economic, social and environmental policy.”

The judge stated: “The likely impacts on a proportion of BAME and female private hire vehicle drivers, in terms of reduced income and/or additional hours of work for drivers and the effects on drivers and their families, is a proportionate means of achieving that aim in the circumstances.”

He added: “There are no other less-intrusive measures which could realistically achieve the same aim.”

A Mayor of London spokeswoman welcomed the decision, saying: “Removing the congestion charge exemption for private hire vehicles, apart from those that are wheelchair-accessible, is an important part of our plans both to reduce traffic volumes and congestion in London, with the additional benefits of reduced air pollution.”

A TfL spokesman said: “We welcome the judge’s decision covering the removal of the exemption from the congestion charge for private hire vehicles, apart from those that are wheelchair-accessible.

“The change means fewer minicabs driving in the congestion charge zone, reducing traffic volumes and congestion.”

IWGB general secretary Jason Moyer-Lee confirmed the union would attempt to take its case to the Court of Appeal.

He said: “The judge, defendant Sadiq Khan, and we all agreed that this charge is bad for ethnic minority and female drivers.

“The question is whether or not the mayor can legally justify it by showing it’s reasonable and there were no better alternative measures to reduce congestion.

“He hasn’t done this and the judge adopted the incorrect legal test when assessing the matter. So now we take the fight to the Court of Appeal.”

Mr Moyer-Lee added: “The IWGB is not about to give up at the first setback.”

At a hearing earlier this month, Ben Collins QC, for the IWGB, told the court that Mr Khan’s decision “does serious harm” to BAME and female drivers, as well as disabled passengers.

He said: “Drivers are driven out of business or required to work hours which impact on their family, well-being and potentially health.

“Disabled passengers have their ability to travel to central London significantly affected.”

Mr Collins submitted: “The discriminatory effect of this measure wholly outweighs such limited benefits as the defendant is able to establish.”

But lawyers representing Mr Khan and TfL argued that the decision “is an important means of reducing road congestion and traffic within the congestion charge zone without reducing the number of wheelchair-accessible passenger transport vehicles”.

Martin Chamberlain QC said removing the exemption would “achieve significant and important road user, health and environmental benefits” and result in quicker journeys and cleaner air.