The founder and chairman of the UK's largest minicab company, Addison Lee, has told his 3,500 drivers to defy law that prohibits the use of bus lanes, pending a judicial review.
In a row with Transport for London (TFL) over bus lanes, John Griffin said that the firm with reimburse its drivers for any fines they incur as a result of breaking the law.
Currently, Black Taxis can use bus lanes in the capital while private hire mini cabs are prohibited – except to drop off or pick up passengers. Addison Lee, which carries around 10 million passengers a year, has secured a judicial review of this Bus Lane legislation later in the year, but has written a letter to inform drivers to use bus lanes in the meantime.
"The current Bus Lane legislation is anticompetitive and unfairly discriminates against the millions of passengers that use Addison Lee," said Mr Griffin. "Minicabs perform the same function as Black Taxis and are licensed by the same authority, so there is no reason that they should be penalised due to outdated legislation."
He added: "Alongside use of the bus lanes, Black Taxis enjoy numerous other advantages including publically-funded parking spaces and ranks in London streets and special allocations for ranks at airports and train stations.
The move has sparked fury from TLF, who have said Addison Lee is risking the licenses of its drivers as well as its own operating license.
In a statement, Leon Daniels, managing director of surface transport, said "The letter from the management of Addison Lee is utterly irresponsible. By issuing it, Addison Lee risk regulatory action against themselves and leave their staff liable to criminal prosecution.
"We have asked Addison Lee to withdraw their letter immediately. We are also writing to all Addison Lee drivers reminding them that repeated breaches of traffic regulations could see their licence to operate withdrawn."
A date for the judicial review of the Bus Lane legislation is yet to be decided and it seems that Addison Lee is reigniting the debate in an attempt to bring the legal challenge forward. The defiant letter is unlikely to go in Addison Lee's favour, but previous rebellious behaviour did have the desired effect.
The private hire firm faced prosecution in 2010 after it told its drivers to use the unpopular M4 bus lane, which was subsequently scrapped by the Government causing over 200 tickets and 130 court summons against the company to be dropped.
Mr Griffin said: "Since the closure of the M4 Bus Lane, the Highways Agency has reported that overall journey times and accidents have reduced."
The row comes as Addison Lee prepares to expand its operation during the London Olympics with £12m of finance from Barclays. With the firm holding over 15,000 corporate account clients, the bus lane ban is set to have a huge impact on travel times during the summer as the capital deals with the massive hike in traffic.