Private hire drivers are taking legal action against London Mayor Sadiq Khan over the congestion charge.
The group, which includes Uber drivers, says the charge, which they will have to pay from April, is discriminatory as 94% of them are from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds.
London’s “black cab” licensed taxis will remain exempt.
The mayor’s office says a rise in private hire vehicles is increasing congestion and air pollution.
From 8 April, private hire vehicle drivers will have to pay the £11.50 daily congestion charge to drive in central London, under rules introduced by the mayor.
Most drivers, such as those working for Uber, will have to pay the charge themselves and cannot pass it on to passengers, because it is the company that sets the rates for fares.
London has roughly 114,000 private hire (PHV) drivers, who are overwhelmingly from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds, and this is what has led to a legal challenge.
The 94% figure comes from a report to the mayor entitled “Changes to the Congestion Charge”, produced in the wake of a consultation, which Transport for London says received 10,000 responses.
The report says: “As the majority of PHV drivers (about 94%) are from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds (BAME) and many are from deprived areas, there is a disproportionate impact on these groups.”
However, it assesses the impact as being “minor adverse”.
The report also includes analysis showing that a majority of black cab drivers are white British.
The Independent Workers’ Union of Great Britain (IWGB), which represents private hire drivers, is seeking a judicial review of the mayor’s decision on the basis that it indirectly discriminates against BAME PHV drivers.
The union has now began that process by writing a pre-action letter to the mayor.
Indirect discrimination is covered by the Equality Act 2010. It occurs where there is a practice, policy or rule that is applied generally to a large group but results in a sub group that possesses a particular ‘protected’ characteristic being treated less favourably.
Those characteristics include race, age, disability, sex or sexual orientation, religion or belief, gender reassignment, maternity and pregnancy, marriage or civil partnership.
IWGB general secretary Dr Jason Moyer-Lee calls the congestion charging plan “regressive” and “both discriminatory and fundamentally unfair”.
“We would urge the mayor to adopt one of the many alternative policies which would actually address congestion, instead of just penalising low-paid ethnic minority workers,” says Dr Moyer-Lee.
He argues that if the minimum wage was paid to all private hire drivers, taxi companies would control the number of drivers because they would not want cars circulating without paying passengers.