The European Union’s top court ruled on Wednesday that Uber is an ordinary transportation company instead of an app and should be regulated as such, in a decision that is being closely watched around the world.
Hailed by the plaintiffs a Spanish taxi association as “a social victory”, the case is yet another thorn in the side for United States-based Uber, which has drawn the fury of taxi drivers and officials for flouting local regulations.
It also comes the same week as one of its drivers admitted to the attempted rape and murder of a British embassy worker coming home from a night out in Beirut, Lebanon.
“The service provided by Uber connecting individuals with non-professional drivers is covered by services in the field of transport,” said the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice.
“Member states can therefore regulate the conditions for providing that service.”
Uber, the biggest name in the growing gig economy, claims it is a mere service provider, connecting consumers with drivers in more than 600 cities.
Uber has run into huge opposition from taxi companies and other competitors who say this allows it to dodge costly regulations such as training and licensing requirements for drivers and vehicles.
The case was brought by a taxi drivers’ association in the Spanish city of Barcelona, where belief runs high that Uber is a taxi company that should be subjected to rules governing such vehicles.
“This will truly represent a social victory, and the whole of society will benefit from this,” Ivan Esma, Spokesman for the Elite Taxi association, told reporters, adding that “the road will be long” for the ruling to be enforced.
Uber said the ruling would make little difference in practice.