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Dara KhosrowshahiUber’s new chief executive, Dara Khosrowshahi. Getty

  • Europe’s top court just decided that Uber is a transport service in a major legal ruling that will likely impact how EU governments regulate the firm.
  • It’s a massive blow for Uber, which has consistently argued that it’s just an app, not a transport service, and therefore subject to fewer regulations.
  • The ruling will give regulators in EU member states more authority to scrutinise and regulate Uber more closely.
  • Uber is fighting multiple legal battles in Europe, including trying to regain its operator’s licence in London.

Uber is a transport service, according to Europe’s top court, in a massive blow for the firm.

The European Court of Justice issued its ruling on Wednesday morning, opening up the possibility for EU governments to regulate Uber much more closely at a local or national level, or even ban it altogether. 

According to the ruling: “The service provided by Uber connecting individuals with non-professional drivers is covered by services in the field of transport. Member States can therefore regulate the conditions for providing that service.”

Uber said in a statement ahead of the ruling: “This ruling will not change things in most EU countries where we already operate under transportation law.

“However, millions of Europeans are still prevented from using apps like ours. As our new CEO has said, it is appropriate to regulate services such as Uber and so we will continue the dialogue with cities across Europe. This is the approach we’ll take to ensure everyone can get a reliable ride at the tap of a button.”

The judgement contradicts how Uber defines itself.

Uber has consistently argued that it is only an app which connects passengers to cab drivers through technology, as opposed to a transport service.

That definition has helped the firm avoid the stricter regulations which apply to conventional taxi, minicab, and other transport services. Instead, Uber is subject to the lighter EU rules which cover digital services operating across borders.

But the European Court of Justice’s advocate general, Maciej Szpunar, gave an opinion in May rejecting Uber’s definition of itself. His opinion was non-binding, but considered a major blow to the way Uber runs in Europe.

He said at the time: “The Uber electronic platform, whilst innovative, falls within the field of transport. Uber can thus be required to obtain the necessary licences and authorisations under national law.”

At the time Uber, played down the consequences and said it would await Wednesday’s ruling.

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