Uber tells EU court it’s not a taxi service, it’s just software
Uber’s fractious existence within the EU has brought it right up to the Union’s highest court, where the ride-sharing app provider has again maintained it is a software company, not a taxi service.
The European Court of Justice yesterday heard Uber’s argument as to why the company should not face heavier regulation in the EU.
Though on the surface this case is between Uber and a Spanish taxi company, the ramifications from this, should the ride-sharing company lose, could prove immense.
Uber entered Europe five years ago, but it faced resistance from taxi companies and local authorities throughout the union – it’s relationships elsewhere in the world have hardly been overwhelmingly popular, either.
The main bone of contention in Europe is the lack of local licensing rules which apply to Uber, which rocks up into a city and can begin operating on a whim. This puts competitors at a disadvantage.
Thus the case, whereby Barcelona’s main taxi operator accused Uber in 2014 of running an illegal taxi service via its UberPOP service – if the ECJ’s states Uber is a taxi company. Rather than a digital service, other online operators (like Airbnb, for example) will be worried.
“Uber is part of a wave of technology which radically changes the way we shop, obtain information,” said Uber’s lawyer Cani Fernandez. “[It] contributes to linking drivers and passengers more efficiently,” she added.
But it does this not contribute enough to be called a taxi company, according to Uber, rather a software company, providing an app as a service.
“Transportation is something that people do every day, using their own cars and increasingly sharing them with others,” said Uber to the court, in a transcript documented on Cnet.
“With smartphone technology, Uber makes it more efficient for riders and drivers to connect, in a fast and convenient way.”
However the Barcelona taxi operator at the heart of this case argues Uber has an unfair advantage because it does not bear the costs which taxi companies face.
“If there is a transport service provided, a company should not be able to hide behind the thin veil of a different service,” its lawyer Montse Balague Farre said.
There were lawyers for Spain, Ireland and France also arguing that Uber should be treated a s a transport company.
The company does have its fans, though, with Estonia, Finland, the European Commission, the Netherlands (where Uber’s European HQ is based) and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) claiming the software is what Uber is primarily about.
EFTA’s lawyer argued the court should “send a message that innovation and new business opportunities in the European Union should be encouraged and not hindered by submitting them to unnecessary rules.”
The ECJ’s ruling is expected in the spring of 2017, with many companies keeping an eye on what transpires.