Across the world, taxi and chauffeured car trade associations have mounted legal attacks and organized protests against Uber Technologies Inc. (Uber), the US personal transport service launched in 2009 (see our previous December 2014 and January 2015 editions of the EU Competition Law Update).
In support of licensed taxis, French lawmakers passed legislation (the Thévenoud law), which entered into force on 2 October 2014, banning Uber and other chauffeured car services (VTC) from using GPS technology to display the locations of cars and potential customers - a key feature of their apps. The Thévenoud law also requires VTCs to return to their place of dispatch between fares if they are not booked by a client for a ride.
Uber has insisted the law should be overturned. To this end, Uber has filed two formal complaints with the European Commission (EC), arguing that the French government did not correctly notify the EC before passing the law and also questioning the merits of such law, claiming that it contravenes EU fundamental principles such as the freedom to provide services.
The aim of the second complaint, filed on 30 January 2015, is clearly to incite the EC to initiate a formal infringement procedure against France, which may ultimately lead to the case being brought before the European Court of Justice.
On 17 December 2014, Uber already had the satisfaction of benefitting from the Council of State’s striking down of a government decree, which had imposed a minimum 15-minute waiting period between the booking time of VTCs and the time passengers could actually get on board.
The most controversial service offered by Uber is UberPop, an application connecting passengers with drivers who do not have professional licenses, offering to save money by sharing rides with strangers who have similar routes. The French General Directorate for Competition Policy (DGCCRF) brought charges against Uber before the Paris Criminal Court where it argued that UberPop is a forprofit taxi service that masquerades as a ride-sharing service. On 16 October 2014, the Paris criminal court agreed with this analysis and ordered Uber to pay a €100,000 fine for “deceptivebusiness practices”, a criminal offense under Article L.121-1 of the French Consumer Code. Pending its appeal against this decision, Uber has continued operating UberPop.
Uber is also under attack from VTC competitors which had sued to block UberPop on grounds of unfair competition in a case heard on 21 November 2014 by the Paris Commercial Court. On 12 December 2014, the Commercial Court declined to ban Uber from operating UberPop, and granted Uber’s request to ask the highest French constitutional authority, the Constitutional Council, to judge the constitutionality of certain provisions of the Thévenoud law, which Uber argues are in violation of the freedom of entrepreneurship and of the principle of equality on the market. The Court therefore suspended its ruling while awaiting the Constitutional Council’s decision. This decision is not expected until the end of 2015, supposing that the French Supreme Court (which must pre-clear the submission of the constitutional questions to the Constitutional Council) will in fact submit such questions to the Constitutional Council.
Nonetheless, the Commercial Court, in accordance with the Thévenoud law, ordered Uber to withdraw from its applications “all mention suggesting it is legal” for Uber's French drivers to stop, park or circulate on public roads while waiting for a potential client, a measure with which Uber has complied. An appeal in this matter was heard on 23 February 2015, and a decision is expected on 31 March 2015.
All in all, Uber has bought time during which it will continue to operate its UberPop service. It has also shown it is not afraid to put pressure on the French government to have the Thévenoud law repealed, both at the national level and at the EU level.