EU Launches Probe Into Spanish Ride-Hailing Restrictions

The European Union has said it is “in dialogue” with the Spanish government over a new law limiting ride-hailing services such as Uber after a court ruling that said similar legislation was “contrary to European law”.

The law, enacted by the Spanish government last month ahead of a 23 July national election, sets “environmental and traffic management criteria” as part of its transport regulations and designates the conventional taxi industry as a “public interest service”, while app-based firms such as Uber, Bolt and Cabify do not receive the designation.

But on 8 June the European Court of Justice, the EU’s top court, ruled against measures by the city of Barcelona that had placed limits on ride-hailing apps, including allowing them only one-thirtieth the number of licences as taxis.

Feneval, an industry group representing ride-hailing app firms, wrote to the EU transport commissioner this month saying that the new law was a “clear breach” of the ECJ’s ruling and calling for an infringement proceeding to be initiated against Spain, the Financial Times reported.

Image credit: Bolt

‘Pilot procedure’

In its response to Feneval, the EU reportedly said it had begun a “pilot procedure” that seeks to “better understand Spain’s reasoning” regarding the country’s rules on taxis and private hire vehicles.

The EU confirmed it had received letters from the private hire industry and was “already in dialogue with Spanish authorities about how their approach is in line” with Article 49 of the EU treaty, which enables companies to carry out economic activities across different member states without impediments created by national laws.

This is part of a “broader assessment” of Spanish transport law, officials told the newspaper.

Officials said the inquiry had begun before the ECJ ruling but would now take it and the new national law into account.

‘Fair competition’

Information gathered in the preliminary probe “should help commission services to assess whether these rules are in breach of article 49”, officials said.

The Spanish transport ministry said the new regulation “focuses on proportionality, fair competition, and the protection of the general interest and the environment”, with new private hire vehicle licences “subject to compliance with criteria aimed at improving air quality, reducing emissions, and managing traffic and public spaces”.

Barcelona urban policy chief Janet Sanz said following the ECJ ruling that it “clarifies” how the city needed to regulate private hire apps.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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