Private Hire Banned From Bus Lanes

Allowing London's trademark black cabs to use bus lanes while excluding other minicab companies does not constitute state aid, the European Union's highest court ruled on Wednesday.

The decision ends a lengthy dispute between the British capital's transport authority, Transport for London (TfL), and Eventech, which owns a minicab fleet used by cab firm Addison Lee.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) said black cabs and minicabs were not comparable because of their different "factual and legal situation" and therefore only allowing black cabs to use bus lanes did not give them a selective economic advantage.

Only black cabs can be waved down by customers on the street and are subject to strict standards regarding their vehicles, fares and knowledge of London, the Luxembourg-based court said.

Eventech, which previously lost its case in Britain's High Court, had argued that TfL's bus lane policy was an infringement of the freedom to provide services and also amounted to illegal state aid -- essentially a subsidy -- favouring black cabs.

The court rejected that view as the policy does not involve any transfer of public money. EU law prevents governments from giving state aid to companies that could distort competition.

But the court recognised that the TfL policy could make the provision of minicab services less attractive and thus reduce the ability of competing providers to penetrate London's market.

The dispute has coincided with growing concerns among traditional cab companies over what they see as unfair competition from alternative taxi providers such as the car-sharing service Uber. The conflict has led to Europe-wide taxi strikes and temporary bans on Uber in Germany.

(Reporting by Julia Fioretti; Editing by Gareth Jones)