Sky News has learnt that the Licensed Taxi Drivers’ Association (LTDA), which has 11,000 members in London, has engaged the leading law firm Mishcon de Reya to explore the potential for a massive legal claim against Uber.
Sources said on Tuesday that if the case proceeded, the LTDA was expected to argue that all 25,000 black cab drivers in London had suffered lost earnings averaging around £10,000 for at least five years as a consequence of failings in the way Uber had operated.
At that level, the overall compensation bill could total £1.25bn.
People close to the situation cautioned that the LTDA could decide against proceeding with a formal claim and that there was no certainty that one would succeed.
The prospective legal action follows a decision last month by Westminster Magistrates’ Court to overturn a ban on Uber imposed by Transport for London late last year.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, had argued that Uber was not “a fit and proper” holder of such a licence amid flaws in the way it conducted background checks on drivers and reported suspected offences by them to the police.
Since then, Uber has made wholesale changes to the way its business in London is run, including proactively reporting driver offences.
It has also appointed a slate of independent directors in an attempt to improve corporate governance.
If it proceeds, the LTDA’s legal claim would be the most stunning salvo to date in a protracted battle between black cab drivers and Uber – two sides of an industry which reflect the ways in which technology is disrupting some of the world’s most entrenched workforces.
Sources said the LTDA was in initial talks with potential funders of its claim, including Harbour Litigation Funding, which describes itself as the UK’s largest provider of financing for legal cases.
Other firms are also understood to be holding talks with the LTDA, with the eventual funder receiving a slice of any compensation awarded.
In a statement issued in response to an enquiry from Sky News, Steve McNamara, general secretary of the LTDA, said: “We’ve been approached by a number of members to help them explore whether there would be grounds for a potential class action on behalf of all taxi drivers against Uber.
“We are in the very early stages of obtaining legal advice from leading law firm Mishcon de Reya on whether this is a possibility.
“We’ll continue to do everything we can to support our members and taxi drivers across London by exploring every avenue to ensure they are treated fairly.”
Responding to last month’s decision to extend Uber’s London licence, Mr McNamara said the company’s appeal had exposed its “blatant disregard for TfL’s regulations and public safety”.
He added: “When TfL’s lawyers grilled Uber on its handling of the 2016 data breach and its shocking failure to report sexual assaults to the police, Uber just blamed its tainted past on its former leadership.
“The justice system has failed Londoners today and let an aggressive multinational corporation win.
“Uber is not a fit and proper operator and the LTDA will be consulting its lawyers as to how we can hold it to account and keep streets safe for Londoners”.
The continued ability to operate in London, one of its biggest global markets, was seen as vital for Uber as it proceeds towards an initial public offering of its shares in New York sometime next year.
Uber was understood to be unaware of the LTDA’s prospective legal claim until the company was approached by Sky News on Tuesday morning.
The ride-hailing app is used by more than 3.5 million Londoners, with 45,000 self-employed drivers working for the company.
Like Deliveroo, Uber has found itself at the centre of a political firestorm over its treatment of its workforce amid calls for tougher regulation of the so-called “gig economy”.
When Uber was stripped of its licence, pending the subsequent appeal, the QC hired by the company to fight the ban said: “We accept TfL’s decision in September was the right decision based on evidence at the time.
“TfL had considerable concerns about [Uber’s] fitness that warranted its refusal to renew.
“[This has] led to wholesale change.”
Tom Elvidge, the general manager of Uber UK, said after the successful appeal: “We are pleased with today’s decision.
“We will continue to work with TfL to address their concerns and earn their trust, while providing the best possible service for our customers.”