Uber has faced legal action all around the world. However, government and regulatory bodies have always struggled with the company because defining Uber is not easy. Now, the European Court of Justice is asking arguably the most pertinent question regarding the company … just what is Uber?
While Uber is thought of as a quasi-taxi service, the company itself disagrees. Instead, Uber describes itself as a technology company that merely provides a platform for passengers to connect with drivers. This is evidenced, according to Uber, but the fact drivers are all freelance and not employees of Uber.
The company has used this self-definition to argue that it should not be subject to the same laws and rules as the traditional taxi industry. Most locations, especially municipalities in Canada have not agreed and regulated Uber in a similar manner to taxis.
As the European Court of Justice has started its long-awaited case that could have a major impact on Uber, at least in Europe, the question of whether Uber is a transport company or digital service could be defining.
“Regulating pieces of software as if they were taxis or hotels makes no sense at all and wouldn’t help protect consumers or stimulate the economy,” said James Waterworth, vice-president of CCIA, a lobby group for the tech industry.
In most European countries, Uber has set up shop illegally and without regulations, similar to its roll out in Canada. If the court finds the company to be purely digital, then it would be free to expand in the EU without ramification. However, if deemed to be a transport company, it will need to be regulated strictly like taxis. In fact, Uber could even be banned from Europe in this scenario.
“Of course there are implications for other sharing economy platforms, whether that’s takeaway on bicycles, house cleaning or assembling Ikea furniture,” said Debbie Wosskow, founding chair of Sharing Economy UK. “Europe is an incredibly important market for all companies in this area so the ruling could lead to a major challenge for them.”