from the if-it-looks-like-a-duck,-swims-like-a-duck,-and-quacks-like-a-duck,-then-it-prob dept
Uber is a company that provokes strong emotions, as numerous stories on Techdirt indicate. Uber has been involved in some pretty bad situations, including inappropriate behavior, special apps to hide from regulators, and massive leaks of customer information. Despite this, it is undeniable that millions of people around the world love the convenience and competitive pricing of its service.
Equally, traditional taxi services dislike it for the way Uber flouts transports regulations that they obey, which is fair enough, and hate it for the way Uber challenges their often lazy monopolies, which is not. This has led to some appalling violence in some countries, as well as numerous legal actions. One of those, instituted by a professional taxi drivers’ association in Spain, has resulted in a case before the EU’s highest court (pdf), the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), which has just ruled as follows:
the Court declares that an intermediation service such as that at issue in the main proceedings, the purpose of which is to connect, by means of a smartphone application and for remuneration, non-professional drivers using their own vehicle with persons who wish to make urban journeys, must be regarded as being inherently linked to a transport service and, accordingly, must be classified as ‘a service in the field of transport’ within the meaning of EU law.
The CJEU’s reasoning was that Uber is more than a simple intermediation service. Its smartphone app is “indispensable” for the process of agreeing to deals between the driver and the customer, and Uber exercises “decisive influence over the conditions under which the drivers provide their service.” As a result, the CJEU ruled that Uber is not “an information society service”, but a “service in the field of transport”, and may therefore be regulated just like traditional taxi services.
In practice, this means that Uber will be able to operate in the EU, but will be unable to continue with its swashbuckling approach that has seen it ignore many traditional requirements for taxi services. That result will be important for its knock-on effect on other services offered as part of the so-called “sharing economy”. In fact, these are better described as new kinds of rental services, and like Uber they have often skirted around existing laws that cover their field of operation. The CJEU ruling, which can’t be appealed, is likely to mean that other companies using online technology to provide such services will also need to obey relevant EU laws.