ECJ rules Uber can be regulated as taxi company
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Uber is facing tougher government oversight across Europe after the EU’s highest court ruled that the US car-hailing app should be regulated like a traditional taxi company instead of a technology group.
In a long-awaited judgment that caps years of intensifying regulatory backlash against the company, the European Court of Justice said on Wednesday Uber operated in the EU as a traditional transport business, exposing it to a far more regimented supervisory regime across the bloc’s 28 member states.
The final ruling from the Luxembourg-based judges, which cannot be appealed against, found that despite Uber’s reliance on technology, the company was “more than an intermediation service” for people trying to hail a cab.
The ruling found Uber “must be classified as a ‘service in the field of transport’ within the meaning of EU law”, giving national capitals the ability to regulate it as any other minicab or taxi business, excluding it from looser rules that govern the bloc’s digital economy.
Uber insisted that the decision would have a limited impact on its business, noting that it already operates under transport laws in several major European cities, including in London, its largest market in the continent.
It also said that it welcomed the intervention of EU regulators, arguing that it would give the company more certainty going forward.
“It is appropriate to regulate services such as Uber and so we will continue the dialogue with cities across Europe,” the company said. “This is the approach we’ll take to ensure everyone can get a reliable ride at the tap of a button.”
Despite its sanguine reaction, Uber had fought hard to convince courts that its UberPOP peer-to-peer taxi service, which connects drivers without commercial car licences to passengers through an app, should be classified as an “information society service” rather than a traditional taxi operation.
The UberPOP service, which was originally challenged by the Asociacion Profesional Elite Taxi, a cabbies’ group in Barcelona, operates only in Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania.
The US company has since relaunched the peer-to-peer system as a regulated taxi and private-hire business in other European cities, including Madrid and Berlin.
In determining that Uber is a traditional transport group, the court held that it “exercises decisive influence over the conditions under which the drivers provide their service”, an essential differentiation from more loosely-operated outsourcing companies.
The ruling comes amid a backlash against Uber from regulators in some of its biggest European markets.
In London, Uber’s licence renewal was rejected in September over safety concerns. The company also faces a court ruling in France, where it is accused of running an illegal taxi service when UberPOP operated in the country.