Is Uber a Taxi Service or a Mobile-Phone App? EU Asks

European Union regulators reviewing complaints filed by Uber Technologies Inc. against various national laws are asking a serious question about the company. Is it a web app or a taxi service?

“Uber is a technology, but it is a technology that has an impact on transportation,” Jakub Adamowicz, a European Commission spokesman, said at a press conference Wednesday. “We’re taking our time to analyze, see and study.”

The commission is reviewing the issue as it investigates complaints the San Francisco-based ride-sharing service has filed against national laws that Uber says restricts its ability to compete against traditional taxis. The bloc’s transport commissioner is also going to look at the industry.

Uber has faced resistance as it seeks to expand in Europe. A German court ordered the company to stop its ride-hailing service in the country for profit on 18 March. Uber has sought the EU’s help to break down barriers and filed a complaint against Spanish legislation March 30 after it had already lodged actions over rules in Germany and France.

“Uber is not a transport company, we don’t own cars,” said Mark MacGann, Uber’s head of public policy in Europe, Middle East and Africa. “We don’t employ drivers. What we are is a technology platform.”

Digital World

Several commission services are working together to examine the complaints as “it’s quite difficult” to determine such matters in the digital world, spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters.

Violeta Bulc, the EU transport commissioner, is also planning to study the market for taxis and private car-hire services, according to a letter she sent to a member of the EU parliament.

“One can buy a plane ticket online, yet it’s a transport service in the end. In the digital world one needs to take a general approach,” Andreeva said.

Even if the commission were to decide Uber should be regulated as a transport service, the regulator would still have to make sure national laws respect principles of proportionality, non-discrimination and freedom of establishment, MacGann said.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE