London black taxis win EU court fight with minicabs

London black taxis win EU court fight with minicabs
A taxi travels along Oxford Street during a bus strike in London January 13, 2015.

LUXEMBOURG - London's iconic black taxis won a battle with private minicabs Wednesday as the EU's top court upheld their right to use bus lanes while excluding their competitors.

The European Court of Justice said the preferential treatment for black taxis did not amount to state aid, which is barred under EU competition rules.

The case was brought by Eventech - owner of minicabs operated by private taxi company Addison Lee - which received two fines for using bus lanes in north London.

The company argued that giving black cabs the green light to use the lanes was tantamount to a subsidy.

But the EU court took a different view.

"Allowing London taxis to use bus lanes while prohibiting private hire vehicles from doing so does not appear to involve state aid," the court ruled.

Black cabs and minicabs were effectively different forms of transport, the court said, adding that allow black cabs use bus lanes could "enhance the efficiency of the London road transport system".

Black cabs are a fixture of London's streets along with the city's bright red buses.

They pick up customers on the streets, set fares by meter and must be capable of taking passengers in wheelchairs.

Their drivers must also pass a difficult geographical test called "The Knowledge." They have long been at war with minicabs, which are ordinary cars licensed to take advance bookings over the telephone or the Internet and which say they offer the same service for less, because their drivers use satellite navigation.

There are 25,000 licensed black taxis in London, and 60,000 licensed private hire vehicles.

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