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London private hire firm looking to overturn High Court decision last year that reinforced TfL ban

The Court of Appeal in London has begun hearing the appeal of London private hire firm Addison Lee against a decision of the High Court last year not to permit its drivers to use bus lanes, which black cabs can currently use – something the company believes is against competition law.

The company was embroiled in controversy last year when chairman John Griffin authorised his drivers to illegally use bus lanes, saying the firm would pay any fines, a move condemned by politicians and cycling campaigners because of the increased risk to safety of riders.

He was also widely condemned by the cycling community due to anti-cyclist comments he made in the company magazine, leading to calls for a boycott of the company and a 'die-in' protest involving hundreds of cyclists outside its Camden HQ.

Griffin has long lobbied Transport for London (TfL) to allow Addison Lee’s drivers to use bus lanes, a request the body has rebuffed, leading to the company unsuccessfully seeking a judicial review last year.

The firm believes that because black cabs can use bus lanes – TfL said that part of the reason for that is that they are able to ply for hire, something private hire vehicles are not allowed to do – they have an unfair advantage.

Yesterday, Nicholas Green QC, representing Addison Lee, told the Court of Appeal: “My client has long taken the view that the initial decision to allow black cabs into bus lanes was a cosy deal between the then mayor, Mr Livingstone, and the black cab trade,” reports the London Evening Standard.

Addison Lee has, however, been accused in the past of having benefitted from similar political largesse - Mr Griffin, a major donor to the Conservative Party through the firm, fought unsuccessfully for a decade with the Labour Government to have the M4 bus lane scrapped; shortly after the Coalition Government came to power in June 2010, then Secretary of State for Transport Philip Hammond ordered it to be removed.

Back at yesterday’s appeal hearing, Mr Green said he had secured “dynamite” and “explosive” reseatch carried out by TfL on the subject of bus lanes.

“It shows that the reasons TfL had worked on for 18 months to justify keeping private hire vehicles out of bus lanes would apply equally to black cabs.”

He also insisted that the distinction between how people use black cabs and private hire vehicles is a “wafer-thin” one – although in practice, it is only black cabs that can stop to pick up a passenger in the street, while private hire vehicles have to be ordered in advance.

However, Master of the Rolls Lord Dyson, who is sitting in the case alongside two other Court of Appeal judges, commented: “I can’t see anything that is explosive or dynamite at all.”

The case continues.

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.