back to article European court: Let's not kid ourselves, Uber. You're a transport firm, not a 'digital service'

Uber should be treated as a transport company, not a digital service, the European Court of Justice declared today. The ruling (PDF) said that the service Uber provides "is more than an intermediation service consisting of connecting, by means of a smartphone application, a nonprofessional driver using his or her own vehicle …

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  1. AndyS

    So...

    Company which provides a car and driver to take a person from A to B, whose drivers are not allowed to work for any rivals, has been classed by the courts as a taxi company which employs drivers.

    Glad to see some common sense prevailing. It's really impossible to classify the company any other way, unless you also allow all bus companies to classify themselves as printers and also ignore all transportation rules (since all they do is sell small bits of paper, after all - just like all that Uber provide is a simple app).

    1. MacroRodent Silver badge

      Re: So...

      I was under the impression that Uber drivers use their own cars. Obviously, if that its not the case, it is just another taxi company.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So...

        Taxi and private hire drivers also use their own cars.

      2. AndyS

        Re: So...

        > I was under the impression that Uber drivers use their own cars. Obviously, if that its not the case, it is just another taxi company.

        Virtually every taxi company runs driver-owned vehicles. Doesn't alter the point at all. If I phone Valu-cabs and ask for a cab, and a man turns up with a cab to drive me to the airport for a fee that I agreed with Valu-cabs, the exact ownership structure of the car used is irrelevant. Valu-cabs are providing the service to me.

        As that stands, the Valu-cab driver might or might not be self employed. But as soon as Valu-cabs says the driver can't also take work for A2B, then he has become an employee.

      3. Voland's right hand Silver badge

        Re: So...

        I was under the impression that Uber drivers use their own cars.

        Sorta. Due to most cities in the UK requiring a private hire license for Uber-ing the cars are usually leased via lease houses which specialize in supplying private hire vehicles compliant to current regs.

    2. 2+2=5 Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: So...

      > It's really impossible to classify the company any other way

      Oh, I think it can be classified as a non-law-abiding, rapist employing, driver and passenger gouging, rapacious, sexually-harassing, sociopathic kind of company.

    3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: So...

      Glad to see some common sense prevailing.

      ECJ rulings usually do tend on come down on the side of common sense.

      Thankfully we'll soon be able to fall back on decisions by British courts, enforcing Brutish law, and won't have to worry about common-sense any more. (Except for the many occasions when ECJ rulings will still apply, although without a UK judge involved)

      1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

        Re: So...

        You do realise that for the most part British consumer protection law goes beyond that required by EU law? And that London has declined to renew Uber's licence?

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So...

          "You do realise that for the most part British consumer protection law goes beyond that required by EU law?"

          Examples welcome.

          Obvious example: UK retailers generally expect to provide 12 months warranty on consumer goods. EU law requires 24 months (2 years).

          Oh hang on, British retail practice is worse than EU law. How can that happen?

          Further reading e.g.

          http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/bills/article-1677034/Two-year-warranty-EU-law.html

          (26 Jan 2010)

          "The EU directive in question is 1999/44/EC. The full wording is contained here (open the word documtent and scroll to page 7) but the important bit is this: 'A two-year guarantee applies for the sale of all consumer goods everywhere in the EU. In some countries, this may be more, and some manufacturers also choose to offer a longer warranty period.'

          As with UK law, a seller is not bound by the guarantee 'if the (fault) has its origin in materials supplied by the consumer'. But the EU rule does not require the buyer to show the fault is inherent in the product and not down to their actions. "

          1. Tringle

            Re: So...

            Really, have you ever tried to take a faulty product back to a French retailer? You're lucky if they give you a credit note to spend in their own store with a validity of a month, because it is not them but the manufacturer or importer who is responsible. No, you have to somehow get the product back to the manufacturer, it could be anywhere, at your own expense and risk. If you're lucky you might get it back. I had a DSLR with a manufacturing flaw. Retailer disowned it, I got it back to the importer in Paris, cost more than €50 in insured postage, and it was 6 weeks before the replacement arrived. So I was out of pocket and without my camera. This experience is not atypical. EU guarantees are basically worthless, although some of the larger retailers here in La Belle are now starting to accept moral (because there is no legal) responsibility; they've had to since Amazon arrived with their no questions asked customer service. UK retailers are staggeringly customer focused in comparison.

            1. Voland's right hand Silver badge

              Re: So...

              Really, have you ever tried to take a faulty product back to a French retailer?

              Dunno about France. Never had any issues with Germans, Bulgarians or Spanish. Warranty is complied to without a single squeak, refund or replacement in full on the spot.

              1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

                Re: So...

                Dunno about France.

                As in most places it depends on the shop. Big chains/retailers don't quibble, small ones will always try to persuade you it isn't their responsibility.

            2. jmch Silver badge

              Re: So...

              Here in Switzerland, outside of EU, typical guarantees are 2 years (not sure if it's by law, could be). Every time I've had to return anything, it was replaced or repaired at no additional cost and without batting an eyelid, no arguments whatsoever.

              Sometimes it's not just the letter of the law, but the culture of quality product and doing things the right way (although in many cases Swiss service still leaves much to be desired)

            3. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: So...

              How long did you wait ? Even in the US most places gives you any were from 30-60 days to return it.

          2. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

            Re: So...

            Obvious example: UK retailers generally expect to provide 12 months warranty on consumer goods. EU law requires 24 months (2 years).

            Oh hang on, British retail practice is worse than EU law. How can that happen?

            You're a little out of date, it doesn't. Under the Sale of Good act 1979, updated by the Consumer Rights act of 2015, you have statutory protections of up to 6 years (England and Wales) or 5 years (Scotland). Retailers may want to keep offering only 1 year, they will lose if taken to court. As you note, EU minimum is 2 years but In some countries, this may be more. In the UK, it is.

            1. gnasher729 Silver badge

              Re: So...

              You are confusing the time when your rights run out with the time where you get anything.

              The 6 years or 5 years is the date when the seller can say "we don't know you. We have no idea if you are our customer. Go away". The time when they have to fix things is less. Actually it is not a fixed time, but a "reasonable" time, and "reasonable" depends on the product. (Obviously if you enter.a 2 year phone contract then you can reasonably expect the phone to last for two years. Other things might be less or more ). And after six months you need to prove that the defect was present when you received the item (before six months the seller would have to prove that the defect was _not_ present when you received the item).

              And you are confusing statutory consumer rights with warranties. Usually the manufacturer gives you a warranty. The seller doesn't need to give you anything, because you have statutory rights by law.

      2. MonkeyCee Silver badge

        Re: So...

        "Thankfully we'll soon be able to fall back on decisions by British courts, enforcing Brutish law"

        That's what currently happens. The ECJ does not make decisions on the facts in a case.

        It makes decisions on points of law.

        In this case, whether Uber is just a technological platform for ridesharing, or that it is a transportation company. One of the key points is who sets the price (driver, rider or Uber) and since neither the rider or driver get any ability to change said price, it's a transport company.

        Now that ruling has been made, the appropriate court (in Spain one presumes) can now make a ruling upon the facts in the case, including that Uber is a transport not tech company.

        Each EU country legislates taxis and private hire vehicles differently, and Uber appears to be operating as a private hire company for most of them.

        I'll also note that the ruling on Uber drivers being employees has some problems, in particular that Uber cannot require drivers to work (or not work) certain hours. So if there are ten drivers, and they all want to work 4pm to midnight, they can, despite it being more profitable to Uber if they did a shift system.

        Never used them myself, and it's pretty clear to me (IANAL) that they are some form of transport providing company 'cos they set they bloody fares, and this is another delaying tactic from getting the actual ruling on whether they are operating taxis or private hire vehicles.

    4. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: So...

      The trouble is, and this seems to be what the ECJ has managed to wade through, 'Uber' isn't one company; there is 'Uber' the app developer, 'Uber' the platform operator, 'Uber' the taxi company (which is likely to be a different entity in each geographic region 'Uber' offers services in) and is the one the drivers contract with, etc..

      1. Test Man

        Re: So...

        "The trouble is, and this seems to be what the ECJ has managed to wade through, 'Uber' isn't one company; there is 'Uber' the app developer, 'Uber' the platform operator, 'Uber' the taxi company (which is likely to be a different entity in each geographic region 'Uber' offers services in) and is the one the drivers contract with, etc.."

        I think you misunderstand - it's pretty much the same with many other companies with subsidiaries in multiple countries.

        It makes not a jot of difference what the operating company that's filed at Companies House/EU-country-equivalent is, if it's operating as a taxi company it's a taxi company. ALL of Uber's subsidiaries that operate in the EU (that uses the parent company's resources to provide the same service) are all taxi companies as defined in EU law.

        1. Roland6 Silver badge

          Re: So...

          I think you misunderstand

          Err no, I suggest you read the text of the Uber submissions to TfL where they play the game - we don't employ any taxi drivers, we just provide an app, the drivers are the responsibility of our customer, the Uber London taxi co. ...

          it's pretty much the same with many other companies with subsidiaries in multiple countries.

          Agree, I purchased 3 DVDs on Amazon.co.uk last week, all in stock at 'Amazon', only after placing my order did they reveal that each DVD would be supplied by a different 'Amazon' subsidiary and I subsequently received three packages through my letterbox, naturally each via a different courier/mail service. [Aside: full marks to Royal Mail who outperformed the couriers and actually delivered next day, the day Amazon forecasted for all three deliveries...]

          Hence why we should give credit for the ECJ for not being suckered by Uber's deliberate obfuscations.

    5. Pseu Donyme

      Re: So...

      I suppose it is also relevant that Uber sets the rates the customer pays (thereby controlling what the driver gets after Uber's cut as well); if Uber were merely a real-time market with an app for access matching customers seeking to go from A to B with drivers willing to make that happen for a price agreed between a customer and a driver (or maybe set by a regulator) it would be a different matter.

    6. Naselus

      Re: So...

      "It's really impossible to classify the company any other way"

      Well, it's looking increasingly like you can classify it as a criminal enterprise.

    7. Mikerahl

      Re: So...

      I think common sense would be more if the entire concept of the "taxi license" was eliminated and replaced by a simple driver's license in the same model as a truck driver license, which would be provided at cost to those who pass the requisite exams (same as a trucker, bus driver, etc.). Take the entire management of such licenses away from the cities (they don't get to manage trucks either). If someone wants to drive a taxi, they can drive a taxi. No limits, no "cartels", just get your license and you can drive.

      1. #define INFINITY -1 Bronze badge

        Re: So...

        @Mikerahl - what problem are you trying to fix by changing the law?

      2. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: So...

        That *is* how taxi licensing works.

        All you need for a vehicle to be licensed to carry passengers is that it passes the licensing test (basically, MOT-Plus).

        All you need to operate as a driver licensed to drive a vehicle carrying passengers is for you to comply with the application requirements to be a taxi driver (in my city, basically O level English and Maths, and a local geography test, plus the legally required driving license, bankruptcy declaration and convictions declaration).

        All you need to operate as a taxi control and dispatch centre is for you to comply with the application requirements to be a taxi control and dispatch centre.

      3. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

        Re: So...

        @Mikerahl

        Taxi licence along the lines of an HGV licence? It's a start, but local authority needs to be involved - or can someone from a village in the Welsh Marches with a licence potter into central Lunnon and start touting for business? Would not be good.

    8. Muscleguy Silver badge

      Re: So...

      Here in Dundee the Council has been locked in a war with the Cabbies over license numbers. Many of the Cabbies are concerned the council has issued too many licenses which make it much harder for drivers to make a living. Now Uber want to come into that market? There is no gap for them. If the current drivers cannot make a buck how are Uber drivers supposed to?

      Our mechanic said they had worked on a car, a Skoda, which was being driven 24/7 by a roster of drivers. This sort of thing is increasingly common. Maximises the use of the asset base.

      Until they perfect self drive cars which can go anywhere Uber cannot compete with that.

    9. MonkeyCee Silver badge

      Re: So...

      As I understand it, in the UK Uber is a Private Hire company whose drivers are self employed. I am perhaps missing what this changes (if anything) in the UK.

      That you can dump the responsibility traditionally undertaken by an employer onto the employee by making them self employed is an issue far larger than Uber alone.

      My simplistic understanding of the difference between a Private Hire licence and a taxi licence is that you have to book a private hire (be it by phone call or app), wheras a taxi can pick you up from the street without any pre-arrangement.

      Unless I've missed something significant, how is Uber ever considered a taxi rather than private hire company in the UK?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This decision should be hailed as they've hackneyed the idea that they are just a communication app.

  3. x 7 Silver badge

    It would be interesting to know how the cars are insured. I can't see any insurance company agreeing they're anything less than private hire cars.

    Or do Uber provide the insurance?

    1. katrinab Silver badge

      The drivers generally hire the cars from specialist leasing companies that provide fully insured and maintained cars for the private hire trade.

      1. x 7 Silver badge

        "The drivers generally hire the cars from specialist leasing companies that provide fully insured and maintained cars for the private hire trade"

        In which case the cars are being leased and insured as private hire vehicles........

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: do Uber provide the insurance

      Don't need no pesky insurance, faked documents will do:

      https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/jun/12/uber-whistleblower-exposes-breach-driver-approval-process

  4. Lusty Silver badge

    I take it E-Bay will be subject to the same laws as shops going forwards then, even when it's a shop I'm buying from? Great news, one throat to choke!

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Barcelona, Spain

    "The case was originally brought after Uber was told to obey local taxi rules in Barcelona, Spain in 2014."

    As opposed to Barcelona the planet, where they've got dogs with no noses?

    1. 2+2=5 Silver badge

      Re: Barcelona, Spain

      As opposed to Barcelona, Catalonia, not-in-Spain. :-)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Barcelona, Spain

        As opposed to Barcelona, Catalonia, not-in-Spain. :-)

        I have no skin in thsi game but catalonia is part of Spain at leats ta the moment.

        1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

          Re: Barcelona, Spain

          @AC

          but catalonia is part of Spain at leats ta the moment.

          At the risk of starting a shitstorm of downvotes from Spanish fans of proto-fascism, I would point out that the government of Catalunya declared the country independent.

          1. #define INFINITY -1 Bronze badge

            Re: Barcelona, Spain

            ... I would point out that the government of Catalunya declared the country independent ...

            Ah, good old UDI; always results in a thriving economy.

          2. David Nash Silver badge

            Re: Barcelona, Spain

            "At the risk of starting a shitstorm of downvotes from Spanish fans of proto-fascism, I would point out that the government of Catalunya declared the country independent."

            Is there a reason why you spelled every word in that sentence the English way (including "Spanish") except "Catalonia"?

          3. Test Man

            Re: Barcelona, Spain

            "At the risk of starting a shitstorm of downvotes from Spanish fans of proto-fascism, I would point out that the government of Catalunya declared the country independent."

            Not recognised by any country (as defined by the UN, and before you ask - also not by any other state in the world whatsoever) in the world though, including the one you're in.

            Therefore, Barcelona, Spain as far you're concerned (officially).

            1. Rameses Niblick the Third Kerplunk Kerplunk Whoops Where's My Thribble? Silver badge

              Re: Barcelona, Spain

              "Ditto Paris, does not need ', France' added, but 'Hilton' is acceptable."

              It's (she's) really not.

          4. jmch Silver badge

            Re: Barcelona, Spain

            "At the risk of starting a shitstorm of downvotes from Spanish fans of proto-fascism, I would point out that the government of Catalunya declared the country independent"

            Oooh, can of worms time! As someone who has 2 close friends, one of which married to a girl from Madrid and one to a girl from Barcelona, I have been exposed to more than my fair share of the ins and outs of this one.

            Suffice it to say that while I am firmly on the side of pro-independence Catalonia should they want it, it has to be pointed out that the issues (as always) are very far from black vs white. To start off with, the referendum that was won by 90%+ was boycotted by 'remainers' and polls suggest the real leave vs remain numbers are very close.

            Happily, the Spanish Central government has organised new regional elections for this weekend, so we will know soon enough whether the Catalan mood is truly pro-independence

            1. defiler Silver badge

              Re: Barcelona, Spain

              Oooh, can of worms time! As someone who has 2 close friends, one of which married to a girl from Madrid and one to a girl from Barcelona, I have been exposed to more than my fair share of the ins and outs of this one.

              Umm... Am I supposed to say "fnar"? :-/

            2. Charles 9 Silver badge

              Re: Barcelona, Spain

              "To start off with, the referendum that was won by 90%+ was boycotted by 'remainers' and polls suggest the real leave vs remain numbers are very close."

              By boycotting, they conceded their votes and therefore cannot protest the consequences. The only way to properly protest a vote is to vote as much as you can in spite of the circumstances.

              1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                Re: Barcelona, Spain

                "By boycotting, they conceded their votes and therefore cannot protest the consequences. The only way to properly protest a vote is to vote as much as you can in spite of the circumstances."

                Except the vote had been declared an illegal action by the legal government, so by not voting they were upholding the law as it stands, not conceding.

                1. Charles 9 Silver badge

                  Re: Barcelona, Spain

                  But now you're into a sovereignty issue, and sovereignty by definition entails self-determination. So legalities turn gray here as the vote involves an move towards self-rule. Therefore, whether or not the government is legal or not may not be possible to conclusively say. Remember, the United States declared its own independence unilaterally and was resisted by the "legal" government of the time (the UK), yet ultimately the US gained its sovereignty. IOW, it's not a black-and-white issue here.

                  1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

                    Re: Barcelona, Spain

                    All very true and correct, of course, but the point about the referendum still stands. It was declared illegal and so the majority of voters were those who wanted change while those "voting" for the status quo stayed away from a declared illegal action. Polls seem to be indicating that an actual and legal referendum vote would be too close to call. The elections today seem to indicate that the majority voted for parties on the side of independence, bit the party with the single largest vote share was a unity party.

                    It's also worth looking at Scotland. The SNP, strongly pro-independence, swept to power and have retained power almost to the exclusion of all other parties, and yet the referendum vote was against independence, so even people voting for pro-independence parties might not themselves be independence voters. People vote for all sorts of reasons, and, to be honest, I think much of the time it's a vote for the "least worst" option, ie voters never agree with all of the policies of their chosen candidate/party.

          5. Dan 55 Silver badge

            Re: Barcelona, Spain

            I would point out that the government of Catalunya declared the country independent.

            It turns out they didn't (link in Spanish). There were two sections to that law, they only voted on the part which didn't have the UDI, and not even that vote was entered into the official record. None of the work you'd expect setting up a new country happened the day after either, everything ground to a halt and leading politicians fled to Belgium.

            So aside from the lack of international support, it never really happened in the first place.

            Still, Spain still came down like a tonne of bricks on them. It was debatable if the high court had the powers to investigate what was happening, so just in case, they gave themselves the powers to investigate sedition, but only when it's alleged that a region has declared independence.

    2. JimmyPage Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Barcelona, Spain

      Who stole your pie today ?

      It's incredibly Eurocentric to assume that all cities have distinct names. For all I know there may be a Barcelona, WA, US. Or Barcelona, Mexico.

      Same way "Birmingham" is either "Birmingham, UK" or "Birmingham, Alabama".

      Whilst predominantly UK based, El Reggers are a diverse bunch, and it's fair to cater for that

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