Europe’s top court has been advised to rule that Uber should be regulated as a transport service, not an app. The recommendation was made by the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (ECJ) Advocate General Maciej Szpunar. The ECJ said that the service provided by Uber amounts to the “organization and management of a comprehensive system for on-demand urban transport.”
Szpunar said Uber could not be seen as a mere intermediary between drivers and passengers because it controlled economically important aspects of the urban transport service. His conclusion is that Uber is using innovative methods to deliver a transportation service as its core service. While the opinion is non-binding, the judges usually follow such advice.
The determination that Uber is a transportation company could level the legal playing field between Uber and traditional taxi firms operating in the EU. The case under review now was brought by Barcelona taxi drivers. The taxi drivers’ claim alleged that Uber engaged in unfair competition by using unlicensed drivers. Uber claims that it is not bound by the same strict licensing and safety rules as taxi firms because it is not technically a transportation service.
The ECJ is likely to reach a final ruling in the landmark case in the coming months. A spokeswoman for the ECJ said a judgement usually follows between three and six months after the AG opinion has been delivered. A spokeswoman for Uber said it would await the ECJ’s final ruling. The ECJ’s final ruling cannot be appealed by Uber.
This is the biggest challenge yet to its European roll-out. Uber expanded into Europe five years ago, but it is proving to be one of the company’s toughest markets. Ruling that Uber is a transport service is likely to affect its operations in Estonia, Poland, Czech Republic, and Finland. That ruling would also force Uber to take more responsibility for certifying, insuring and paying its drivers.
Uber has expanded rapidly across the United States and internationally. Uber now operates in just under 600 cities around the world, withdrawing from China last year. Nearly half of the cities Uber operates in are in North America.
Uber has gained a reputation of launching first and dealing with regulators later. The company has fought bruising regulatory battles with local taxi firms and municipal authorities in a number of the cities where it operates. The company already faces restrictions in several large countries and major cities.