Uber could step on the gas after the nod from Brussels

The taxi-hailing service has friends in high places and support from the European commission may well embolden the embattled company

by Guardian Staff

Given the sheer volume of court rulings that have gone against Uber lately, it would be no surprise to find that the world’s judiciaries have been infiltrated by a cadre of disgruntled black cab drivers.

The California-based taxi app has now fallen foul of courts in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Belgium – and that’s just in Europe. Judges in Brazil and India have also thrown brass tacks under the wheels of the Uber juggernaut, which has been rapidly gathering speed since the company was founded in 2009.

One of the chief complaints is that its lower-cost UberPop service – now banned in a handful of countries – relies on drivers who do not have a licence to operate private hire vehicles. This angered traditional taxi drivers, whose lobby groups have found allies among the political classes.

In France, Uber was found guilty of running an illegal taxi service, a crime that carries a maximum penalty of two years for executives held responsible. They avoided jail but, in a measure of the strength of anti-Uber sentiment in France, two executives had to pay combined fines of €50,000.

But there may be hope for Uber in Europe. The European commission recently issued guidelines stating that “sharing economy” businesses such as Uber and Airbnb should be banned only as a last resort. It hinted that it could call upon these guidelines when determining whether national legislation violates EU treaties.

So far, Uber has tended to drop its UberPop service rather than fight its corner: it relies for income instead on its more upmarket chauffeur-style services, which use fully licensed drivers.

But the company has many friends in high places and the thinly veiled message of support from the European commission may well embolden chief executive Travis Kalanick. If the commission continues to lean towards backing Uber, he will at some stage feel ready to test those bans in the highest European courts. And that could lead to a head-on collision.

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Original article

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