Uber will shut down its operation in Denmark next month following the introduction of new taxi laws, the company has said, marking the latest European setback for the US ride-booking service.
A company spokesman, Kristian Agerbo, said on Tuesday Uber “must take the consequences” of the new rules, which among other things will require cabs to be fitted with seat occupancy sensors and fare meters.
Uber has faced problems in cities including Madrid, Frankfurt, Paris and London, and is awaiting a decision from the European court of justice that could determine how it is regulated on the continent: as a transport service or a digital platform.
The company, which says it has 2,000 drivers and 300,000 people using its app in Denmark, said it would not be able to operate unless the regulations were changed, but added it would “continue to work with the government … to enable Danes to enjoy the benefits of modern technologies like Uber”.
As has happened elsewhere in Europe, taxi driver unions, cab operators and politicians have argued that Uber does not comply with the legal standards for established taxi firms and its service represents unfair competition.
Danish prosecutors last year in effect accused the company of operating an illegal taxi service, indicting it on charges of assisting its drivers – two of whom have also been fined – in breaking applicable national taxi laws.
Since arriving in Europe in 2011, the San Francisco-based firm has faced numerous legal and other challenges. Its drivers have been physically attacked in Paris, where two of its most senior European executives were also put on trial on charges of running an illegal transport service.
Courts in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands have banned Uber’s low-cost UberPop service, which uses non-professional drivers, while an employment tribunal in London ruled its licensed drivers should be classed as workers with access to the minimum wage, sick pay and paid holidays.
The company is appealing against the ruling, in which the tribunal dismissed as “faintly ridiculous” the idea that Uber was “a mosaic of 30,000 small businesses linked by a common ‘platform’. Drivers do not and cannot negotiate with passengers … They are offered and accept trips strictly on Uber’s terms.”
In Brussels, the European commission has called for restraint from member states in their approach to the disruptive start-up, saying they should consider bans only as a last resort since the EU also had a duty to “encourage a regulatory environment that allows new business models to develop”.
But that has cut little ice, particularly with traditional taxi operators, who have filed suits accusing the Californian company of dodging local licensing and safety laws and offering unfair competition.
One such case, brought by Barcelona’s main taxi association, was referred to the European court of justice by a Spanish judge in 2015 and heard at the Luxembourg-based court last November.
The court’s ruling, expected later this year, could be critical for Uber’s future – and that of the wider “gig economy” – in Europe: if it decides the company is a transport service, it will have to comply with existing labour and safety legislation, and meet all the rules that apply to traditional taxi associations.
If, on the other hand, the judges decide Uber is an “information society service” – essentially, an online platform that connects independent drivers with passengers – it will be free to develop other low-cost and unlicensed services of the kind already banned in many European countries.
Uber has also been hit by recent problems in the US following allegations of sexual harassment and the emergence of video of an abuse-filled row between its CEO, Travis Kalanick, and one of the company’s disgruntled drivers.
It was also revealed that the company used a secret programme to evade law enforcement. Uber’s president, Jeff Jones, resigned last week after just six months in the job, saying working at Uber was incompatible with his values.