(CN) - Allowing London's black taxis to use bus lanes - and barring private-hire vehicles from doing so - does not give a government-sponsored advantage to the iconic cabs, the EU high court ruled Wednesday.
Eventech, which manages a fleet of minicabs in London for parent company Addison Lee, sued the borough of Camden and Transport for London after two of its self-employed drivers got tickets for using a bus lane in the city center.
The company challenged the tickets, arguing that allowing the official black cabs - which are tightly regulated by the London Cab Order - to use the bus lanes while barring private taxi companies from doing so amounted to illegal state aid.
A British court of appeal asked the European Court of Justice to weigh in on the issue, questioning whether the practice confers a selective economic advantage on the black cabs that involves the use of state resources.
In a preliminary ruling issued Wednesday, the Luxembourg-based court said first that no commitment of state resources is involved when black cabs are allowed to use bus lanes but private minicabs are not.
Furthermore, the black cabs - because of their legal status and the rules they must comply with - are in a "factual and legal situation which is distinct from that of minicabs," the court said.
"By virtue of their legal status, only black cabs can ply for hire; they are subject to the rule of 'compellability;' they must be recognizable and capable of conveying persons in wheelchairs, and their drivers must set the fares for their services by means of a taxi meter and have a particularly thorough knowledge of the city of London," the 7-page opinion stated. "It follows that black cabs and minicabs are in factual and legal situations which are sufficiently distinct to permit the view that they are not comparable and that the bus lanes policy therefore does not confer a selective economic advantage on black cabs."
The court acknowledged that permitting only black cabs to use bus lanes may make the London taxi business less attractive to other companies looking to set up shop, although that wasn't enough to find the practice constitutes illegal state aid.
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