12:03 GMT29 October 2020
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    Uber should be considered a company that is "providing transportation services", an adviser to the EU Court of Justice said on Thursday, May 11. It's a body blow to Uber, which insists it's only "a digital enabler," and so should be exempt from some regulations and taxes. It's the latest setback for Travis Kalanick's lucrative set-up.

    You may not have heard of Advocate General Maciej Szpunar, but his recommendation to the EU Court of Justice could impact how you get around cities all across Europe.

    "The Uber electronic platform, whilst innovative, falls within the field of transport: Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licenses and authorizations under national law," Szpunar's statement said on Thursday.

    The recommendation is not yet binding, but judges at the court tend to follow such advice.

    The consequences for Uber could be dramatic. Such a ruling would expose the company to being subject to a whole raft of European-wide licensing regulations and tax obligations.

    Indeed, governments across the world have been slow to adapt to Uber's unconventional business model. It is increasingly attractive to consumers, as demonstrated by it's but its popularity in cities across the world.

    Uber says it has around 120,00 drivers in the EU, used by 7.5 million people.

    However, Uber remains remarkably unregulated, unlike traditional companies offering similar services, such as taxis. This has resulted in a toxic mix of reduced tax revenue, fewer employee protections and angry protests from the competition.

    The case was initially brought by an association of Barcelona taxi drivers who argued that Uber was engaging in unfair competition, though being able to used unlicensed drivers, while they were not.

    So, what next for Uber and its drivers?

    In a statement reacting to Advocate General Maciej Szpunar's recommendation, an Uber spokeswoman said:

    "We have seen today's statement and await the final ruling later this year.

    "Being considered a transportation company would not change the way we are regulated in most EU countries as that is already the situation today.

    "It will, however, undermine the much needed reform of outdated laws which prevent millions of Europeans from accessing a reliable ride at the tap of a button."

    An EU-wide overhaul of regulations on Uber could be hugely disruptive to a service that has become omnipresent in cities across the continent, since its arrival five years ago.

    However, it's not yet clear if Uber would fight such a ruling. If it chose to do so, Uber would face a war on multiple fronts.

    It has faced multiple legal challenges in the US. And in the UK, it is embroiled in an ongoing dispute, appealing a ruling that its drivers are workers, and so do qualify for employment rights, such as holiday pay and the minimum wage.

    Yet, Uber has adapted its business model in some countries. In 2016, it re-introduced a licensed version of the ride-hailing service in Madrid and Berlin.

    However, UberPOP, the unlicensed service version of Uber, is still operating in Estonia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Norway, Finland and Switzerland.

    The controversy over Uber's identity rages on. Meanwhile, the company is currently valued at a cool US$68 billion….


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    taxi, license, transport, business, competition, court, Uber, European Court of Justice, European Union, Europe
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