Maurits van Buren

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Challenging times for Uber taxi app in Europe


The recent decision of the Dutch Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal against Uber demonstrates the challenges “sharing economy”-companies currently face in Europe. Similar (court) rulings have already been issued in countries like Spain, Belgium, and France. What legal issues are exactly at stake here? And how will governments respond to the rise and success of the sharing economy?
Cause of the conflict

Let’s begin with the recent Dutch Trade and Industry Appeal Tribunal’s decision. On November 11, 2014, the Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and Environment imposed a cease and desist order on Uber’s “UberPop”-service (which enables private car owners to connect with customers and provide taxi services) under penalty of € 10,000 per violation. According to the Minister, UberPop would be in violation of the Dutch Passenger Transport Act, which forbids providing taxi services without a taxi permit (to be granted by the Minister).

Uber’s arguments; Tribunal’s decision

In response Uber immediately filed a request to suspend the Minister’s order, alleging, inter alia, that UberPop-users would fall under the scope of the so-called “carpool”-exemption, that the Passenger Transport Act would be obsolete and outdated, and that Uber would offer plenty of safeguards to warrant the quality of the services provided. The Tribunal, however, rejected these arguments, stating that:

  • UberPop was used to transport unknown customers (not colleagues or family) as an economic activity (the drivers did not merely receive a reimbursement of expenses);
  • Whereas Uber may warrant the quality of the service provided, the fact remains that a taxi permit is still required by law, plus Uber does not comply with several other legal requirements (e.g. medical certificate, driver’s diploma) and is not supervised by the Human Environment and Transport Inspectorate;
  • As yet there is no reason to assume that the law will be amended on short notice to legalize services like UberPop.

Uber has already announced that it will appeal the Tribunal’s decision.

Status of UberPop in other European countries

Uber has also met resistance in other European countries. On December 9, 2014, a Spanish civil court ordered Uber to stop operating in Spain, stating that Uber did not have a taxi permit in order to legally provide taxi services and accusing the service of unfair competition. Uber has announced to appeal while at the time suspending its services in Spain.

The French government announced on December 14, 2014, that it is banning the UberPop service as of January 1, 2015, following a decision of a French civil court to temporarily allow UberPop until the constitutionality of a French transport law, aimed at taxi services like UberPop (the so-called Thévenoud law), has been determined by the highest French court. The French law in question prohibits the use of geolocation (acquisition of clients by professional drivers through their smartphones).

Will current legislation be revised to legalize UberPop?

As to the Netherlands: on January 14, 2015, Dutch Secretary of State of Infrastructure and Environment Wilma Mansveld promised the Dutch House of Representatives to evaluate the Dutch Passenger Transport Act within two months, with the objective of determining to what extent the current Passenger Transport Act obstructs current market developments, which could be in favor of consumers. Whereas it is expected that this will lead to certain legalizations for the taxi business (i.e. fare calculations via smartphone and sending taxi ride receipts via email), the question remains whether services such as UberPop, where non-licensed private car owners offer taxi services to others, will soon be legalized.

This blogpost was written by Maurits van Buren (attorney at Brantjes Advocaten) and Wies van Pesch (paralegal at Brantjes Advocaten).

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