Uber's car-sharing service could face more difficulties in the European Union. According to a legal advisor of an EU court, the US company can be regulated under national transportation laws in each EU member country.
Ride-hailing app Uber may be a pioneer in its field, but at heart it was an ordinary taxi company and should be regulated as such, a top EU lawyer said Thursday.
Uber claims it is a service provider, connecting riders with freelance drivers directly and much more cheaply than traditional cab companies. It has run into huge opposition from critics and competitors who say this allows it to dodge costly regulations such as licensing requirements for drivers and vehicles.
In another ruling in the US on Thursday, a judge rejected Uber's bid to send its trade secrets dispute with Alphabet's self-driving Waymo unit to a private legal forum. US District Judge William Alsup in San Francisco also partially granted Waymo's bid for an injunction against Uber over its self-driving car program.
ECJ ruling Uber traditional
In an opinion on a case brought by a taxi drivers' association in the Spanish city of Barcelona, Advocate General Maciej Szpunar of the European Court of Justice said California-based Uber should be treated as a traditional taxi company.
"The Uber electronic platform, while innovative, falls within the field of transport," Szpunar said in an ECJ statement. "Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licenses and authorizations under national law," he said.
No genuine digital company?
The ruling means that the San Francisco-based company may not be able to enjoy the EU's considerably liberal rules for digital companies in the future.
The company reacted sharply, saying the opinion would change little in practice and only harm innovation. "To be considered a transport company will not change the regulations we are subject to in most European countries," a spokesman for Uber France said. "It will however hurt the necessary reform of outdated laws which prevent millions of Europeans being able to find a reliable ride with just one click," the spokesman said.
The opinions given by the ECJ's advocate generals - its top lawyers - are potentially significant since the EU's top court very often follows the advice in its final rulings, expected later this year for the Uber case.
Taxi drivers in Madrid and other cities around the world have been protesting against Uber's market entry for years
Uber has had a rough ride in Spain, where a judge ruled in 2014 that its UberPop service risked breaking the law, leading to the Barcelona submission.
Early last year it decided to operate only a limited version of its UberX service in Spain, which uses licensed, professional drivers instead of amateurs.
The company does not employ drivers or own vehicles, but instead relies on private contractors with their own cars, allowing them to run their own businesses.
Licensed taxi drivers must undergo hundreds of hours of training, and they accuse Uber of endangering their jobs by using more affordable drivers who need only a GPS device to get around.
The court adviser's opinion is not binding - a final ruling in the case is expected later this year.
tko/hg (AFP, Reuters, AP)