Uber ‘is a transport service’, so its EU moves will prove tricky

11 May 2017

Uber. Image: Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock

Battling to avoid the term ‘transport company’ since it was originally created in 2009, Uber’s continuous dodging may finally come to an end.

Uber’s explosion onto the transport scene this decade has seen it experience conflict in almost every market it has entered.

Comparable to Lyft and MyTaxi, Uber’s software allows pretty much anyone to become a taxi driver.

However, claiming to be far from a taxi company, Uber says that it merely provides the platform for this type of activity.

This is a similar defence tactic used by the EU as recently as last month when a seller of ‘dodgy boxes’ was finally told his hands weren’t entirely clean when it comes to media piracy.

And just like in that case, Uber could see its entire construct evaluated contrary to its wishes, should the EU abide by the words of its highest court’s adviser.

“The Uber electronic platform, whilst innovative, falls within the field of transport: Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licences and authorisations under national law,” the European Court of Justice said in a statement seen by Reuters.

The advocate general said that Uber drivers “do not pursue an autonomous activity that is independent of the platform. On the contrary, that activity exists solely because of the platform, without which it would have no sense.”

While the opinion is non-binding, the court is believed to follow this advice in general.

What this means for Uber is an awful lot more headaches. If it were found to be a software company, say, it would face different, and far fewer, restrictions in each national market.

As a transport company, though, it would need to abide by industrial protocols in each separate market.

Uber is awaiting the full, final ruling, expected later this year, but claims that even if it is considered a transport company, this “would not change the way we are regulated in most EU countries as that is already the situation today”.

However, such a ruling would “undermine the much-needed reform of outdated laws, which prevent millions of Europeans from accessing a reliable ride at the tap of a button,” an Uber spokesperson said in a statement.

Uber has had a bit of a nightmare recently, despite its remarkable growth. For example, its self-driving car plans, regarded as the company’s ultimate end goal, are on hold after an accident.

This is perhaps a good thing for automotive manufacturers, though, as it might stall the impending doom of the car industry, one that is inevitable and could come as soon as 2030, according to a new report published by think tank RethinkX, called Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030.

In other Uber news, former president Jeff Jones left the company in February after deciding that there have been too many controversies in too little time.

Not long before this, allegations that Uber suppressed sexual harassment incidents forced the company to go on the defensive.

Uber. Image: Jeramey Lende/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic