Court ruling for halting Uber in Italy may have Europe-wide impact

Updated 2017-04-14 14:30:46 Xinhua

Months of friction between Italian taxi drivers and the U.S. car-sharing service Uber ended early this month when a court ruled the smart phone-based service represented unfair competition for traditional taxi services, a ruling analysts say could have repercussions across Europe.

According to the ruling last week, Uber will have to disable its signature smart phone application and halt all other operations within the country's borders by April 21, though Uber said it plans to appeal the ruling.

"We are shocked by the court's decision," Uber said in a statement. "Thousands of professional, licensed drivers use the Uber app to earn money and provide Italians with reliable transportation at the touch of a button."

Regardless of the outcome of the appeal, analysts say the latest developments would have far-reaching consequences.

"There is a strong urge in Italy for companies to see new forms of competition as unfair," Roberto Pardales, a market and competition professor at Rome's LUISS University, told Xinhua.

"It's hard to believe other European countries won't look at what happened in Italy and increase pressure for a similar decision in their country."

Pardales said that goes beyond the battle between taxi drivers and Uber in other countries.

According to the professor, it could have an impact on the way other parts of the sharing economy -- whether short-term online lodging service Airbnb or other peer-to-peer services -- may be treated in the future.

Pietro Paganini, a business administration professor at Rome's John Cabot University, said that any court ruling that put up barriers to new forms of competition help the established companies in the short-term but ultimately they hurt innovation.

"Competition would make taxi service better and would prepare taxi drivers for competition they will eventually have to face," Paganini said in an interview.

The latest decision comes after months of clashes between taxi driver unions and Uber.

In the most high profile case, taxis stayed off the roads in several major Italian cities for six days in February in order to push for drivers working with high-level Uber-Black service to follow the same rules as traditional limousine drivers.

Last month, the main taxi driver union sat down for talks with Carlo Tursi, the president of Uber-Italia, to look for a compromise satisfactory to both sides. But the two sides were unable to reach a deal.

Uber-Pop, the baseline service that allows non-professional drivers to pick up passengers, was outlawed in Italy two years ago.

Nicola Di Giacobbe, a national coordinator for Unica-Filt CGIL, the main trade union that represents taxi drivers, said it was fair to treat taxi drivers and Uber drivers differently because they provide different services.

"Taxi drivers have to pass certain tests on knowledge of the city, where hospitals, schools, museums are," Di Giacobbe said in an interview.

"Taxi drivers cannot turn down a fare, and they must serve the entire city. That an alternate service may not guarantee these basic services is unthinkable."

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