In Europe, Is Uber a Transportation Service or a Digital Platform? – New York Times


Such speedy progress has typically pitted Uber towards conventional taxi providers and native labor unions, which have accused the corporate of disregarding working requirements and transportation guidelines.

“We will fight against Uber in Germany and across Europe,” stated Hermann Waldner, the top of a taxi dispatch middle in Berlin. “We will try to do what we can to defend ourselves through the law.”

But as individuals more and more flip to providers like Uber and rivals like Lyft, coverage makers worldwide are beginning to query how such companies within the so-referred to as sharing financial system must be ruled.

“Our role is to encourage a regulatory environment that allows new business models to develop,” Jyrki Katainen, the European Commission vice chairman for jobs, progress funding and competitiveness said this year, earlier than including that a essential precedence was “protecting consumers and ensuring fair taxation and employment conditions.”

For Uber and its rivals in Europe, the courtroom case represents a watershed second for a way journey-reserving corporations will be capable of function within the area.

The listening to pertains to a standoff between Uber and a Spanish taxi affiliation, which filed authorized proceedings in 2014, claiming unfair competitors.

Later that yr, Uber suspended its providers within the nation, together with its low-value UberPop providing, which had allowed virtually anybody — after some primary safety checks — to make use of the corporate’s platform to select up passengers. Uber recently returned to Spain, this time in partnership with licensed taxi drivers.

In July 2015, a decide in Barcelona referred the case to the European Court of Justice, asking the Luxembourg-based courtroom to find out whether or not Uber ought to be handled as a transportation service or merely as a digital platform.

If the courtroom decides that Uber is a transportation service, the corporate should obey Europe’s typically onerous labor and security guidelines, and adjust to guidelines that apply to conventional taxi associations. Though Uber already fulfills such necessities in lots of European nations, the ruling might hamper its enlargement plans.

But if the judges rule that Uber is an “information society service,” or an internet platform that merely matches unbiased drivers with potential passengers, then the corporate may have higher scope to supply low-value merchandise like UberPop and different providers which were banned in lots of elements of Europe.

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The biggest American tech companies face intensifying scrutiny by European regulators, with — pressure that could potentially curb their sizable profits in the region and affect how they operate around the world.

“This case should show that European laws fully support the development of a digital single market,” Gareth Mead, an Uber spokesman, stated in a assertion, referring to efforts to reduce barriers that presently prohibit the entry Europeans should digital content material, e-commerce merchandise and different on-line providers.

Asociación Profesional Élite Taxi, the Spanish group that introduced the case, didn’t reply to repeated requests for remark.

A ruling just isn’t anticipated earlier than March on the earliest. The judges might determine to think about Uber a transportation service, a web-based platform, or a mixture of the 2, additional complicating the authorized standoff.

Other European taxi associations are preserving a shut eye on the result, which can apply throughout the 28-member bloc.

“Uber is appealing to Europe at the very moment when Europe is starting to seize upon problems linked to the web,” stated Séverine Bourlier, secretary common of the National Taxi Union in France. “You can sense that countries are worried, so I think Europe is starting to think about this problem and ways to regulate it.”

The way forward for Uber’s European operations has grow to be more and more necessary for the corporate because it sold its fast-growing Chinese unit this yr to Didi Chuxing, a native rival, after a prolonged worth struggle between the 2 corporations.

While Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief government, had focused China for main enlargement, the corporate settled for a minority stake in a mixed Chinese operation with Didi Chuxing that’s valued at roughly $35 billion.

As Uber has grown past San Francisco, the place it was based in 2009, it has develop into embroiled in a variety of authorized disputes all over the world which have challenged its enterprise mannequin and a few of its working practices.

Last month, as an example, New York State regulators dominated that two former Uber drivers have been eligible for unemployment payments, discovering that they need to be handled as staff fairly than unbiased contractors, because the service had maintained. A British courtroom additionally just lately made a similar ruling, saying that Uber drivers ought to obtain a minimal wage and trip pay.

Mr. Kalanick has been charged in South Korea with operating an unlawful taxi service, an accusation the corporate denies, whereas in India, a former Uber driver was sentenced final yr to life in jail for the rape of a passenger.

Other sharing-financial system companies like Airbnb, the holiday rental website, have additionally been focused for authorized motion, notably in Europe, the place conventional inns have seen such competitors with skepticism.

Last week, the town authorities in Barcelona — considered one of Airbnb’s largest markets — fined the company and its rival, HomeAway, a mixed $1.2 million for promoting and working trip leases with out applicable licenses. BlaBlaCar, a French ride-sharing service, additionally was ordered to pay virtually $10,000 to Madrid’s regional authorities for working with out required authorization. The corporations deny the allegations.

Uber’s European authorized woes have typically set governments towards each other, as nations have taken opposing views on how the corporate ought to function.

The European Commission, the chief arm of the European Union, and nations like Finland and Portugal have supported such new digital providers, typically proposing new laws to assist them develop regionally.

But in different nations, notably France and Germany, nationwide politicians have favored guidelines which have both banned a few of Uber’s providers or required the corporate to function inside present transportation guidelines.

“We’re focused on working within the regulatory environment,” stated Andrew Pinnington, chief government of MyTaxi, an Uber rival owned by Daimler, the German automaker. “We want to be seen as a constructive disrupter of the industry, not a destroyer of it.”

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