This week I took part in an interesting debate on what new technologies can bring to urban mobility. The event was organised by the International Road and Transport Union (IRU), the global industry association for road transport, promoting sustainable mobility of people and goods. Michael Kramer, Chairman of the Committee on Transport and Tourism in the European Parliament, and the representatives from the Dutch EU presidency also attended the debate.
I am excited about the possibilities and innovative, people-friendly solutions that the collaborative economy offers in the field of transport. There are many different business models emerging: some are commercial (e.g. Uber), others non-commercial (e.g. BlaBlaCar) activities. Some are responding to new consumer needs and creating new markets. Others are competing directly with well-established operators. However, what they have in common is the innovative use of new technology, which allows them to provide better customer experience for the users and smarter, data-driven analytics for companies.
This creates many new opportunities. New operators are providing a useful stimulus to the market and answering the real needs of people. Thanks to the competition from new operators, traditional taxi companies are increasingly offering new and better services, such as online reservation apps and quality rating possibilities. New operators are offering new job opportunities. They can connect remote places where no taxi or public transport services are available. Thanks to the optimised usage of car fleet and connections with public transport services, they participate to a reduction of congestion and are, compared to traditional services, much more environmentally friendly.
However, new operators represent a real challenge for regulators. They are often using atypical forms of employment. They raise new liability issues. To ensure fair competition, we need to make sure that all operators comply adequately with their fiscal and social obligations and are subject to equivalent safety requirements. At the moment, some Member States are tackling these problems in the wrong way. Current restrictions to access local passenger transport markets are counter-productive. Limiting the possibility for new transport operators to use new technologies is a clear example of bad practices – to the detriment of consumers.
To successfully address these challenges, we need to approach them in a different way. Today, taxi markets are mainly regulated at local or national level. However, new operators have a cross-border dimension and want to benefit from the EU’s internal market opportunities. People expect to be able to benefit from the same, reliable services in different European cities. The current debate is too focussed on Uber’s business model, but what is really at stake is how to improve the functioning of the local passenger transport market to better serve the citizens. Clearly, the current taxi systems are unable to ensure sufficiently good and quality services to consumers. Here, many things can be learned from the new players in the field. I believe that instead of restricting the access to the market, we should embrace best practices from the disrupters in the field and think of ways how to apply them to traditional services.
At the European Commission, we are closely monitoring the local passenger transport market developments and will issue a detailed study this summer on taxi, hired vehicle and car sharing market in Europe. We are also finalising guidance on how existing EU law applies to the collaborative economy that will be published next week.