On Tuesday, Uber presented its case for being considered a technology company rather than a transportation one in Europe’s top court. The $63 billion American ride-hailing giant stated that it is helping bolster the digital economy by making it easier for European citizens to get around and cut down on pollution.
This hearing has been in the works for a long time. Ever since the cab aggregator set foot in the country over five years ago, it has come under attack from local taxi operators and other government agencies. The cause for the same being that Uber is not bound to follow the strict guidelines and safety rules set forth by the government authorities — the prime source for its rapid expansion.
Transportation is something that people do every day, using their own cars and increasingly sharing them with others. With smartphone technology, Uber makes it more efficient for riders and drivers to connect, in a fast and convenient way,
said Uber’s lawyer Cani Fernandez at the hearing.
The company is only operating a smartphone app as a sustainable alternative and should be allowed to operate freely within Europe, stated Uber in its argument. But its local competitors do not have the same softened outlook towards the service. Instead, Uber is a threat for their business and the company not abiding by the hard-to-navigate rules set forth by government agencies is making it even dificult for them to gain users and operate in the country.
We can’t allow for a business model to develop in Europe that could undermine the rights of consumers. We must not be misled by labels. If there’s a transport service provided, then a company can’t hide behind a thin veil, calling itself a different service.
said Montse Balagué, a lawyer for the Spanish taxi association
These claims are further strengthened by statetements from taxi services in Barcelona and Spain, who refer to Uber as an illegal taxi service. The drivers associated with such services have also led protests, ban and legal action against the company not only in Europe but also in the States. But, there are others such as Estonia and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) who stand in support of the company and say that Uber is merely a connecting service betweent the drivers and passengers.
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,
stated ETFA’s lawyer.
Uber, however, stood by its claims of adding to the lacking digital economy of the country in front of the European Union’s Court of Justice, and added that “reduction in unnecessary barriers to information society services is critical for the development of the digital ecosystem.” It also added that the cab aggregator is a supporter of technological services which lead radical changes in the way we travel, shop and obtain information in today’s age.
But the implications of ECJ ruling against Uber and labelling it as a transport company rather than a technology one could be far-reaching for the multitude of services it operates under its umbrella. It would then need to bow down to stricter taxi rules in terms of licencing, safety and insurance framed by government authorities.
The company might need to close down additional services, like UberPOOL, UberEATS in the country. This decision would have a significant effect on other technology giants, such as Airbnb and Deliveroo, which also operate under the aggregator model.