On 5 May 2016, the Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) published a position paper in which it expressed its opinion on Uber’s operations on the Polish market for transportation services.
UOKiK has been monitoring and analysing the effects of the emergence of such online platforms on the Polish market and concluded that Uber (i) encourages competition, (ii) is beneficial to consumers and (iii) provides for innovative solutions.
In performing its monitoring exercise, UOKiK identified a number of characteristics that distinguish and differentiate Uber from similar providers. In particular, the regulator noted that
- Uber enters into agreements with drivers who are not required to hold a taxi passenger service licence
- Fares are not calculated using a meter but are based on the distance travelled and time of the journey
- There are no automatic driver-passenger allocation systems
- Passenger anonymity cannot be guaranteed
- Cash payments are not possible
- Customers can choose drivers based on the vehicle type and customer reviews.
UOKiK explained that (i) Uber operates by making available and operating an electronic platform through which a driver and customer can get in contact and through which payments can be made and (ii) drivers only provide (and are liable for) the transportation service. To this end, the authority compared Uber services as being similar to those provided by intermediaries such as hotel booking platforms or private apartment rentals.
UOKiK’s Assessment of Uber
In performing its competitive assessment, UOKiK identified that Uber’s main advantage rests on the use of modern information technology. Such technology allows consumers to access functionalities that traditional taxi services do not provide and lowers the costs of the service by ensuring that cars/drivers are used more efficiently.
The Polish regulator stressed that Uber puts competitive pressure on traditional taxi companies and that it would be wrong to categorise Uber’s innovative nature as a market practice that is intended to eliminate competition. In this respect, UOKiK pointed out that the maverick’s basic technology is not patent protected and can be used freely by rival companies.
In the view of UOKiK, Uber contributes to the development of competition on the market for local passenger transportation services and has a positive impact on consumers. The emergence of a new carrier means that consumers are offered a wider choice whilst competitors are challenged and hence incentivised to raise quality and innovativeness of their services.
The authority recognised that there may be areas that could require regulatory intervention, such as in relation to tax or the protection of passengers’ personal data and safety. However, UOKiK underlined that any regulatory changes must be carefully considered and be proportional. In particular, they should be conducive to the growth of innovative services and avoid solutions that would grant unjustified protection to long-established competitors.
UOKiK’s position paper shows that national competition authorities may act as silent lobbyists, defending pro-competitive market trends and convincing governments to avoid restrictions on innovative technologies. Although not binding, the statement is very informative and clearly sets out the attitude of the national regulator. It will be interesting to see if other national competition authorities follow UOKiK’s approach by issuing similar position papers.
The Polish antitrust regulator confirmed that it will continue to actively monitor this market.