Fri | Aug 17, 2018

EU court says Uber should be regulated like a taxi company

Published:Wednesday | December 20, 2017 | 11:28 AM
In this December 16, file photo a man leaves the headquarters of Uber in San Francisco. – AP Photo

BARCELONA, Spain (AP):
Ride-hailing service Uber suffered a new blow Wednesday as the European Union's top court ruled that it should be regulated like a taxi company and not a technology service, a decision that crimps its activities around Europe and could weigh on other app-based companies too.

Taxi drivers honked in celebration while Uber – which is wrapping up a particularly punishing year – sought to play down the ruling Wednesday by the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice. The decision might only affect its operations in four countries, and the company said it will try to keep expanding in Europe anyway.

The decision in theory applies to ride-hailing services around the 28-nation EU. But the ruling leaves it to national governments to decide how and whether to change the way they regulate Uber and similar services, which have expanded rapidly in recent years.

Uber has gained a strong foothold and customer base in most European countries, adapting its multiple services time and again to bend to local rules when faced with legal challenges. In many places its hallmark "peer-to-peer" service is already banned, and instead Uber's services are much like taxis, just more flexible and sometimes cheaper.

But many taxi drivers saw Wednesday's court decision as an important symbolic victory. And some other Internet-based businesses fear it could pave the way for other new regulation, as European authorities look for ways to regulate companies that operate online and outside traditional sectors and don't fit in with existing laws.

The decision stems from a complaint by a Barcelona taxi drivers association, which wanted to prevent Uber from setting up in the Spanish city. The taxi drivers said Uber drivers should have authorisations and licenses, and accused the company of engaging in unfair competition.

Arguing its case, San Francisco-based Uber said it should be regulated as an information services provider, because it is based on an app that connects drivers to riders.

The court said in a statement that services provided by companies like Uber are "inherently linked to a transport service" and therefore must be classified as "a service in the field of transport" within EU law. It says the EU directive on electronic commerce does not apply to companies like Uber.

Uber said in a statement that the ruling "will not change things in most EU countries where we already operate under transportation law" and that it will "continue the dialogue with cities across Europe" to allow access to its services.