21 May 2015   |   News

Uber tries again in Germany

The taxi company bounces back after its latest set-back in Europe. Meanwhile, lawmakers in Brussels are exploring their options for regulating the service

Fresh from a German court slapping a ban on Uber, the taxi-hailing app company have responded by launching a new service in the country on Tuesday which it claims abides by German law.

Called UberX, the service uses drivers who have obtained a special license for commercial passenger transportation. The San Francisco-based company has rolled out similar services in other countries.

It’s another episode in Uber’s difficult saga in Europe. Apart from the partial ban in Germany, Uber has been forced to suspend some services in Spain, and has also faced bans in Belgium and the Netherlands. In the UK, The London Taxi Drivers Association has taken Uber to court alleging that the use of smartphones to log journeys flies in the face of regulations.

In March the Frankfurt District Court passed a decision that said Uber was violating transport laws. The case was forwarded by German taxi operator group Taxi Deutschland and is one of more than a dozen lawsuits filed against Uber in countries across Europe.

In response, Uber said the ruling represented a "fundamental infringement of our ability under European law to establish and provide a service". A high-profile intervention came from President of the US Barack Obama who accused Europeans of protectionism on the matter.

Meanwhile in Brussels, regulators are still mulling over what to do about Uber.  

In the European Commission the company’s operations and similar activities in the so-called ‘sharing economy’, fall under the remit of Elżbieta Bieńkowska, European Commissioner for the Internal Market, who is sympathetic to the service. The file has an obvious link with the brief of Transport Commissioner Violeta Bulc also. 

Both are working out whether it is possible to regulate the ride-sharing service at a European rather than national level (national governments are responsible for transportation policy currently).

For now, Uber largely operates in a ‘grey’ market, where its legality is unclear. There is a case for European governments to answer, the taxi service argues, on general principles of EU law such as proportionality, non-discrimination and freedom of establishment.

But first, in the Brussels tradition, an in-depth study of the taxi market in Europe is needed, said the Transport Commissioner.

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