Uber’s fractious existence in the EU has continued to the latter’s highest court, with the ride-sharing app provider once again maintaining that it’s a software company, not a taxi service.
The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) yesterday heard Uber’s argument as to why the company should not face heavier regulation in the EU.
On the surface, this case is between Uber and a Spanish taxi company, but if the popular ride-sharing company should lose, the ramifications could prove immense.
Uber entered Europe five years ago, but it faced resistance from taxi companies and local authorities throughout the union – its 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 severe disadvantage.
In 2014, Barcelona’s main taxi operator accused Uber of running an illegal taxi service via its UberPOP service. If the CJEU states that 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 this does not mean it qualifies as a taxi company, according to Uber – it refers to itself 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 that 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 Balagué Farré 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 that the software is what Uber is primarily about.
EFTA’s lawyer argued that 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 CJEU’s ruling is expected in the spring of 2017, with many companies keeping an eye on what transpires.