Transport for London (TfL) has today secured a High Court injunction against minicab firm Addison Lee that prevents the company from encouraging or instructing its drivers to use bus lanes in the capital pending the outcome of a judicial review on the issue. Earlier this month, Addison Lee's chairman John Griffin had written to the firm's drivers telling them to break the law and drive in bus lanes, which he views as anti-competitive because unlike minicabs, licensed taxis, also known as black cabs, can use them. Mr Griffin, who has attracted strong criticism in recent days as a result of comments he made about cyclists in the company magazine, had promised to indemnify drivers for any fines they received, which the High Court ruled as void and unenforceable.
In a detailed judgment which stretches to almost 12,000 words, Mr Justice Eder set out the background to the case, including a comprehensive overview to the ongoing judicial review, and the behind-the-scenes exchange between lawyers from Addison Lee and TfL ahead of Mr Griffin writing to his drivers on 14 April.
Granting a temporary injunction to TfL while the judicial review of the exclusion of minicabs from bus lanes is concluded, the judge said: “It is my conclusion that it is both necessary and just and convenient to grant the injunction sought by TfL in the form sought,” pending the judicial review.
The injunction granted has the effect of “restraining the defendants [Addison Lee, Mr Griffin and Eventech Ltd, from which the company's self-employed drivers rent their vehicles] from causing, encouraging or assisting any private hire vehicle driver to use bus lanes marked for use by taxis during the hours when restrictions apply, save to pick up or set down passengers.”
He also ordered that the offer by Mr Griffin to indemnify his drivers for any fines or other costs they incurred as a result of driving in bus lanes was “void and unenforceable.”
Transport for London commented: “Despite the instruction from Addison Lee we are pleased to see that, last week the vast majority of private hire drivers continued to obey the law and not drive in bus lanes.”
Leon Daniels, Managing Director of Surface Transport at TfL, said: “Today’s judgment prevents Addison Lee from instructing or encouraging its drivers to drive in bus lanes in London.
“The court felt compelled to grant an injunction because of the substantial risk of Addison Lee taking action that could result in the law being broken.
“We maintain that Addison Lee’s instruction to its drivers was irresponsible and at odds with its position as a private hire operator.
“Bus lanes enable buses to move around the capital efficiently carrying more than six million passengers a day.
“We maintain that allowing tens of thousands of Private Hire Vehicles to drive in bus lanes would impact on the reliability of our bus services, and risks inconveniencing our customers.”
Cycle campaigners had also strongly criticised the company’s move, pointing out that bus lanes do provide a refuge of sorts from much of London’s traffic.
The company itself put a rather different spin on the injunction, its own press release ignoring the fact that it had ordered Addison Lee not to encourage drivers to break the law, and making no comment on the order not to issue an indemnity to drivers who broke the law, other than to highlight comments by the judge that reimbursing drivers after the event in individual cases would be lawful.
Instead, it attributed to the judge comments that he had made that in fact summarised Addison Lee’s own legal arguments that he had analysed in reaching his final decision. It also claimed victory victory over the fact that TfL had not been granted an injunction in the form it had originally sought.
In its press release, the company said: “Transport for London has been forced to abandon its application for a mandatory injunction requiring Addison Lee and its chairman John Griffin to withdraw their letter to drivers stating that they are entitled to drive in London bus lanes and to send out a further letter instructing them not to do so."
While it is true that no order was given to retract that letter, it is a hollow victory for Mr Griffin and the company given the rest of the judgment.
“Mr Justice Eder, who handed down judgment today following a High Court hearing on Monday 23 April 2002, has instead confirmed that it is for drivers to choose whether or not they drive in bus lanes pending the resolution of Addison Lee’s legal challenge to the validity of the bus lane legislation,” continued the company.
Today’s judgment did not in fact state that; instead, that was provided in a summary of Addison Lee’s and the other defendants' own case, which added that the defendants themselves “accept or at least do not dispute such conduct would be unlawful on the face of the present legislation itself.”
It continued: “The judge noted Addison Lee’s argument that the bus lane legislation as it stands constitutes ‘flagrant discrimination in favour of black cabs’ and against private hire vehicles and that this ‘gave black cabs a significant unfair competitive advantage causing [private hire vehicle] drivers significant loss.’”
Here, the reference to 'flagrant discrimination' was the judge quoting the defendants' own counsel on the issue, without giving his own interpretation of that specific issue, which will be addressed in the judicial review.
“The Judge recognised the urgency of the problem by ordering that Addison Lee’s claim should be expedited so that it is determined by the High Court before the Olympic Games,” the company added.
That release went on to say: “In the meantime, the Court has confirmed that it would be entirely lawful for Addison Lee to decide, after any fine has been imposed on a driver for driving in a bus lane, to reimburse that driver in respect of the fine should it wish to do so.”
That is indeed the case, although there is a difference, noted in the judgment but ignored by Addison Lee in its press release, between the company offering to indemnify its drivers in advance of their breaking the law – which as the injunction states, is “void and unenforceable” - and reimbursing them on a case-by-case basis after the event.
Commenting on the judgment, Mr Griffin said: “This is a great start to our campaign to challenge the unfair bus lane legislation. We hope to fully overturn the legislation to offer faster journey times to our customers and to offer a competitive transport service during the Olympic Games.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.