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Is CJEU's ruling the defeat for Barcelona's public taxi model that the media claim?

Journalists should never raise simplicity above accuracy. Take the Catalan Broadcasting Corporation's (CCMA) title: "European justice says that VTC licenses cannot be limited in Barcelona". A tick for simplicity, but a big cross for accuracy.

Before we explain why, let's first update you on what exactly this is all about and why it matters. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on Thursday [8 June] that the Barcelona Metropolitan Area's (AMB) 2018 regulation of private hire vehicles (VTCs) was not legal under European law. Much of what is in AMB's 2018 regulation is applicable across Spain, most importantly, that there should be no more than 30 VTCs for every taxi. Thus, the CJEU's ruling has a significance well beyond Barcelona: if the CCMA title were accurate, it would mean the licensing system which ridehail platforms Uber, Cabify and Bolt operate under across the southern European country would effectively be worthless. 

However, if one takes the time to actually read through the CJEU's ruling, it's clear that this is not what the judges have said. The verdict states that while the 1/30 ratio has not been justified by the AMB, it is within the rights of Spain's autonomous communities to justify a limit on the number of VTCs, as long as it can be proven to be in the "general interest" and "respect[s] the principle of proportionality". How should the "general interest" be defined? By "the objectives of sound management of transport, traffic and public space, on the one hand, and environmental protection on the other," the verdict states. How should "proportionality" be measured? That policies "do not go beyond what is necessary" for the "achievement" of the general interest.

Alberto 'Tito' Álvarez, leader of Elité Taxi Barcelona, Barcelona's majority taxi union, said he was "very satisfied" with the CJEU's criteria for restricting VTCs, because the 2018 regulation has been justified "by an economic issue, so that the taxi sector would not go to ruin" but could just as easily be vindicated based on managing public space and environmental protection. We have previously reported in this newsletter on the new model of public road transport which is being built in Barcelona, where the VTC is limited to limousines and mini-vans while the taxi is the sole provider of car hire and is supported by a public taxi app. Barcelona's acting deputy mayor for mobility, Janet Sanz, responded to the CJEU ruling by stating that it "confirms that the work carried out these years is in the right direction" because it clarifies "the need for restriction for environmental reasons or traffic congestion," and new regulations would be drafted to reflect this. This makes CCMA's headline look somewhat ridiculous.

However, not everyone shares the interpretation of Álvarez and Sanz. The employers' associations, Unauto-VTC and Feneval VTC, stated that the ruling "will call into question" current regulations, such as the one in place in Barcelona. From their perspective, sound management of transport means more, not less, public road transport options in Barcelona, where there are 3.5 taxis and VTCs per 1,000 citizens, compared to 10.1 in London, where Uber runs rampant. José Manuel Berzal, president of UNAUTO-VTC, has said the ruling could be "a turning point that favours the interests of consumers and the image of modernity". Berzal clearly has his eyes on tearing up Barcelona's strict regulation of Uber and co. We can expect more legal battles to follow.

The reality is that the CJEU ruling will be interpreted politically, which means that it will be interpreted very differently depending on if you are in Barcelona, which has the strongest VTC regulation of any autonomous community in Spain, or in Madrid, which has the most liberalised system, or in the other 15 autonomous communities which are somewhere between Barcelona and Madrid. To the extent that the end of the 1/30 ratio was one of the last restrictions on the most liberalised autonomous communities then it is a loss for the taxi, but the reality is that the 1/30 ratio is not respected anyway: there is currently 1 VTC for every 3.3 taxis in Spain. 

For the regional governments which haven't already made their mind-up about the CJEU verdict, the inaccurate reporting in the press clearly pushes them in one direction, and is not isolated to CCMA. Here's some other titles in the Spanish press: "Uber and Cabify win the game over the taxi: European justice rules that limiting VTC licenses is illegal" (Motor Passion), "The taxi loses another battle: the European justice rejects the limitation to VTC licenses" (El Correo), and "Hit [to] the taxi: Europe rejects the limitations on VTCs and opens a new legal battle" (El Confidencial). Politicians are more likely to read these headlines than they are the full text of the CJEU ruling.

But workers have their own means of pushing back. Elité Taxi Barcelona will mobilise next Wednesday [14 June] and once again shut down the centre of the Catalan capital to make it clear to Catalan politicians that they won't accept any back-sliding on the new public taxi model. While the press can push a narrative, workers can take the streets.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Gig Economy news round-up

  • TURKISH SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS UBER CAN STAY, BUT ONLY AS AN APP FOR TAXIS: The 11th Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court of Appeals affirmed on Tuesday [6 June] that Uber's current mode of operation in Turkey - where taxis are offered on its app but no other cars - would continue. The ruling defends a December 2020 verdict in an Istanbul court, which overturned a 2019 complete ban on Uber, but only on the basis that they operated as an app for the taxi industry. Uber entered the Turkish market in 2014 without any license to operate and by the time of the 2019 ban it had over 10,000 drivers in the country. The taxi industry mobilised against Uber's presence in the country and the 2019 ruling backed up its view that Uber constituted 'unfair competition'. The Uber Files leaks last July found Uber had paid sizeable sums of money on consultancies and other individuals with influence in the Turkish government to try to secure a license. Read more here
  • DRIVERS PROTEST UBER "GREENWASHING" EVENT IN LONDON: Uber drivers in the App Drivers & Couriers Union (ADCU) protested outside of Uber's launch of new features intended to promote the company's green credentials. The Californian ride-hail giant announced that it's peer-to-peer 'carshare service' would now be available in North America, after Uber Carshare was launched in Australia seven months ago. Also, passengers using the Uber Green service will now be able to see how much CO2 they have saved. Drivers in electric vehicles will also be directed to convenient charging points and the algorithm will include "battery-aware matching". CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said that driving and travelling in an environmentally sustainable way was now the company's "north star". James Farrar, ADCU General Secretary, said at the protest that it was "infuriating that the company has the gall to pull off a greenwash PR stunt like this in London to launder their reputation.” The union is calling for an increase in the driver operating costs Uber pays from 45p per mile to between £1-1.50, given the rise in inflation since 2021, when the 45p rate was set. The union also called on London mayor Sadiq Khan to "insist that Uber obey the law or face losing their licence to operate in London.” Read more here.
  • UK: EX DRIVER AND UNION LEADER REFUSES UBER SETTLEMENT TO TAKE COMPANY TO EMPLOYMENT TRIBUNAL: ADCU General Secretary James Farrar is taking Uber to an employment tribunal in late June after refusing a settlement which the company sought to tie to a non-disclosure agreement. Farrar, a former Uber driver, and Yaseen Aslam, ADCU President and also a former driver, won an employment tribunal in 2016 which claimed they were employees of the company. Uber continually appealed the verdict until it reached the Supreme Court in 2021, when in a historic verdict the court found that the drivers were employees. Since then, Uber has faced legal claims from drivers for back-dated pay and has sought to settle out-of-court, but Farrar says he has rejected all offers because he wants a court to define how Uber is allowed to calculate a minimum wage for drivers. Farrar told the Evening Standard: "There are 100,000 Uber drivers still being cheated out of their full statutory rights by Uber and private settlements prevent the courts ever reaching a proper determination. I feel like I would have wasted my time and failed our campaign if I did not push on to a final court judgment that could be used to protect all Uber drivers in future.” Andrew Brem, Uber's UK general manager, said: "We’ll see in this employment tribunal what a judge thinks. We believe what we’ve done is totally appropriate, complying with the law and fair, basically." Read more here.
  • UBER CEO: "THE EUROPEAN WAY IS INCREASINGLY GOING TO BECOME THE UBER WAY": Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has launched a European charm offensive, saying the company will increasingly seek to be a model of "responsible capitalism" through union agreements, opening up its app to taxi services and implementing sustainability policies. Khosrowshahi told 'Politico': "If you characterise a European model, probably too simplistically, as responsible capitalism, capitalism with protections, we think that is an appropriate model going forward.” On the EU Platform Work Directive, Khosrowshahi said that while he was opposed to the current text of the Directive and believed it would force them to reduce the number of riders and drivers on the app, they would not exit the European market if it was passed. "We’re not looking to make threats, we’re not looking to jump out; what we want to do is lean in.” Uber are planning to move engineering jobs from the US to its new Amsterdam campus, where there are currently 1,100 employees but room for another 1,000. Read more here
  • UNDOCUMENTED RIDERS IN MARSEILLE PAY €1,000 FOR FAKE UBER EATS ACCOUNT: Undocumented workers in the southern French city of Marseille are buying fake Uber Eats accounts for €1,000 and a fake Deliveroo account for €1,600, a 'Marsactu' investigation has revealed. The fake accounts are made by using fake identities and social security details. They are shut down once €5,000 are earned on them, at which point the undocumented rider then has to purchase another one. The fake accounts are a new method for undocumented workers to access food delivery work, as they more typically 'sub-let' them from an account holder who takes a % of the earnings, usually somewhere between 30-50%. Riders sub-letting in Marseille are sometimes asked to do facial recognition tests, but have a mechanism for getting round this: they either get someone who looks like the account holder to take the picture, or the account holder themselves who works nearby. Almost all of them are from Algeria and got to Marseille from crossing the Mediterranean. Uber Eats controversially de-activated 2,500 accounts in Paris last summer, which cut off many undocumented workers from their only source of income overnight and led to regular protests from the workers in co-ordination with unions and worker collectives demanding 'regularistion' of their work status. Read more here.

In GEP this week

Open letter from French unions and worker collectives to EU labour ministers on the ‘French model’ and the Platform Work Directive

Labour ministers of EU member-states are set to finalise their position on the Platform Work Directive, with reports that France – the state must opposed to strong employment rights in the Directive – now holds the key to the final text. Five unions and worker collectives representing platform workers in France have written to the labour ministers urging them to reject France’s ‘social dialogue’ model for the gig economy. We re-publish the open letter in English (original in French).
From around the web
Podcast - Investigation: The black market behind your takeaway

Podcast exploring last week's investigation in the Sunday Times on the sub-letting of riders accounts to undocumented migrants in the UK.
Delivery Drivers Share What It’s Like Delivering in Hazardous Wildfire Smoke

New Yorkers are being advised to stay inside as the city turns orange from Canadian wildfire smoke, but riders have to keep working.
Agitating on wheels

Anjali Chauhan reports in the Asian Labour Review on food delivery protests and strikes in India at Blinkit.

Upcoming events

- A 'tech for good' festival, an alternative conference to London Tech Week, hosted by Outlandish and Space4 will take place in London on Friday 16 June. It will including sessions on 'def-EAT-ing the gig economy' and 'Platform capitalism? What about platform socialism?'. Click here for full details and to register.

- More than 100 migrant riders in Berlin demanding unpaid wages from Wolt after the disappearance of one of its sub-contractors will protest on Monday 19 June, 3pm at Kottbusser Tor. Click here for details.

- The Platform Labor Project and the Global Digital Cultures Initiative are holding a hybrid international conference on 'Global Perspectives on platforms, labour and social re-production', at the University of Amsterdam, 27-28 June. Details here

Know of upcoming events we should be highlighting? Let us know at

Get Involved

The Gig Economy Project is a media network for gig workers and we welcome contributions from workers, writers, academics, activists - anyone who wants to stand up for workers' rights in the gig economy.

If you would like to write for the site, discuss arranging an interview with GEP, or simply have information about developments in the gig economy in Europe you think we should be aware of, get in touch. 

Contact project co-ordinator Ben Wray at or send a direct message to the Twitter: @project_gig.

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