Text by MARTINE HUBERTY
Photography by MARION DESSARD
IS UBER COMING TO LUXEMBOURG? The American “on demand mobility” firm is testing the waters in the Grand Duchy. But there may be a few roadblocks in its path.
ber: tap a button, get a ride. The app that connects drivers and riders has made over $17bn worldwide and disrupted the way we think about transportation. Via the app, you can see the ride options, price and wait time; you choose a car and the driver picks you up within minutes. You don’t need to call, you pay by card automatically and you can rank your driver afterwards. Hugely successful in the US, the company faces significant challenges in European countries and provides serious headaches to policy-makers. Taxi drivers have protested against Uber in London, Paris, Milan and Berlin because Uber’s drivers are not held to the same standards as other car services and taxis. Taxi drivers need a licence to own a taxi, a driver’s licence and a taxi driver’s licence.
LEGAL BATTLES These licences are costly and regulated. Many cities have argued this creates unfair competition because Uber is not bound by strict local licensing and safety rules. Uber says it is a digital platform that connects willing drivers with customers and is not a transportation service; it insists its drivers are self-employed. Policy-makers and courts struggle between the desire to protect a regulated industry and the need for technological innovation. In Denmark, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling to fine six Uber drivers for violating the taxi laws, and prosecutors have charged the company’s regional hub in the Netherlands against illegal business. Germany, February 2017
Belgium and France have taken action against it--even banning various of its services. The question is whether Uber is a transportation service or a digital platform. The European Court of Justice, located in Kirchberg, has been asked to rule on this matter in a case originally filed by a Barcelona taxi drivers’ association, and is expected to give its ruling around April this year. This question is important from a legal standpoint because, if it is a tech company, it must be allowed to operate unhindered throughout the EU. If it’s a transportation service, a country can make it subject to an “authorisation scheme”.
SHARING ECONOMY The arguments from both sides are convincing. On the one side, Uber is not a taxi firm because it doesn’t own or lease the vehicles involved in its operation: Uber is not in the business of physically conveying people from
point A to point B. On the other side, Uber charges customers for transportation rather than intermediation. If the ECJ rules it’s a taxi company, it will not necessarily have negative implications for the sharing economy--these companies will just be subject to national regulations. This means every country can decide how to regulate each sharing economy platform--it may decide that Airbnb is subject to the same regulations as a hotel, but that Uber should be considered as a digital platform or vice versa.
DIGITAL TALK A., J. and N. The “Disrupted or Disrupter” conference organised by Deloitte, a consultancy, on 19 December 2016 at Rotondes in LuxembourgBonnevoie
" WHY DO WE LIVE IN A WORLD WHERE EVERYONE HAS A CAR?" PIERRE-DIMITRI GORE-COTY
Delano February 2017