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Uber is a taxi company: European Court of Justice

21 December 2017, 01:14 | Melanie Burgess

Uber is a taxi company: European Court of Justice

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The Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that Uber is a transport service, not merely a tech platform, citing the "indispensable" link the company creates between drivers and passengers.

The case follows a complaint from a professional taxi drivers' association in Barcelona that Uber's activities in Spain amounted to misleading practices and unfair competition from Uber's use of non-professional drivers - a service Uber calls UberPOP.

Uber argued it was a digital app that connected drivers and customers looking for a ride, and that it should therefore fall under the scope of online services.

With the ruling by Europe's highest court, Uber can now be regulated as a transport service at the national level within the EU's member states.

Uber attempted to downplay the decision, saying it only affects its operations in four countries and that it will move forward with plans to expand in Europe. It says the European Union directive on electronic commerce does not apply to companies like Uber.

"Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licences and authorisations under national law", he said. "However, millions of Europeans are still prevented from using apps like ours", Uber said in an emailed statement.

Taxi drivers honked horns to celebrate the ruling, which punctures Uber's image as the pioneer of a new gig economy that's setting its own rules while governments clamber to keep up.

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In France, Uber's low-priced service involving independent, unregulated drivers is already banned as the result of legal challenges, but Uber operates a popular ride service involving licensed drivers that competes with traditional taxis and charges similar but more flexible rates.

In a dense legal judgement, the ECJ said that Uber was a service that connects "by means of a smartphone application and for remuneration non-professional drivers using their own vehicle with persons who wish to make urban journeys".

Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania are the only countries where the company still offers so-called "peer-to-peer" services linking freelance drivers with riders, and the countries where Wednesday's ruling might have a direct impact.

"The service provided by Uber is more than an intermediation service", the ruling stated.

However, a group representing online companies warned that the ruling goes against EU efforts to encourage innovation and help European entrepreneurs compete with US and Asian rivals. The 28 member countries in the European bloc will have to regulate "the conditions under which such services are to be provided", the court added.

The ruling went on to say that Uber's "approach and conduct demonstrate a lack of corporate responsibility in relation to a number of issues which have potential safety and security implications".



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