Fri, May 12, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Uber must get ordinary taxi licenses: EU lawyer

AFP, BRUSSELS

Ride-hailing company Uber Technologies Inc might be a pioneer in its field, but at heart it is an ordinary taxi company and should be regulated as such, a top EU lawyer said yesterday.

In an opinion on a case brought by a taxi drivers’ association in Barcelona, Spain, European Court of Justice Advocate General Maciej Szpunar said California-based Uber should be treated as a traditional taxi company.

“The Uber electronic platform, whilst innovative, falls within the field of transport,” Szpunar said in a court statement. “Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licenses and authorizations under national law.”

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 “It will however hurt the necessary reform of outdated laws which prevent millions of Europeans being able to find a reliable ride with just one click.”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 opinions given by the court’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.

San Francisco-based Uber 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 to get around.

Szpunar said he believed that Uber could not be considered solely an information service, which falls under a different regulatory regime.

Instead, he said it was a composite service, providing both information electronically and then the all-important means of transport.

“Uber cannot be regarded as a mere intermediary between drivers and passengers,” Szpunar said. “It is undoubtedly transport [namely the service not provided by electronic means] which is the main supply and which gives the service meaning in economic terms.”

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