Uber tells ECJ it's not a taxi service in landmark case

Irish lawyers argue otherwise as firm's European woes continue...

Uber tells ECJ it's not a taxi service in landmark case

Picture by Gene J. Puskar AP/Press Association Images

Ridesharing company Uber has rebutted accusations that it is a taxi service and should be regulated as such before Europe's highest court on Tuesday. 

The Californian firm again stressed that its business is solely focused on providing a smartphone app that connects drivers and customers, and also made the case that it has helped cut pollution and improved the quality of life in the European countries in which it has a presence.

Speaking before the panel of 15 judges, Uber's lawyer Cani Fernandez said:

"Uber is part of a wave of technology which radically changes the way we shop, obtain information..."

"Uber contributes to linking drivers and passengers more efficiently," she continued, before arguing that the company has made it easier for people to get around, drivers to get access to parking and reduced pollution. 

The much-anticipated European Court of Justice appearance comes as a direct result of Barcelona's main tax operator accusing Uber of running an illegal taxi service via its UberPOP service back in 2014 and the court's ultimate decision could have massive implications for not only how Uber does business, but also the tech likes of Airbnb and the "gig economy" as a whole. 

Spain has been joined by both Ireland and France in calling for Uber to be subject to the same rules as other transport services. On the other side, Finland, Greece, Poland and The Netherlands – where its European headquarters are based – are supporting it in court, as well as the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

EFTA's lawyer asked the court to "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."

If Uber is judged to be a transport service rather than a mere digital platform that facilitates independent business, it would have to deal with far stricter rules in terms of licensing, insurance and safety if it is to operate in the EU.

Montse Balague Farre, lawyer for Barcelona's Asociación Profesional Élite Taxi, said:

"If there is a transport service provided, a company should not be able to hide behind the thin veil of a different service."

Back home

The National Transport Authority (NTA) poured cold water on Uber's plans to bring ride-sharing to Ireland back in August.

An NTA spokesperson has said that it is unlikely that there will be any change to the current Irish legislation preventing drivers charging for the transportation of others without a taxi licence.

While Uber has a number of taxi drivers using its service in Dublin, the majority of its worldwide business utilises unlicensed drivers using its smartphone app to ride-share.

An ECJ adviser will deliver a non-binding opinion in the coming months, with an official verdict from the judges not expected until at least March 2017.