The Danish Supreme Court has upheld large fines issued to several Uber drivers for operating without a taxi license, at a time when the ride-hailing giant was still running its non-licensed p2p driver UberPop service in the market.
The decision could mean more than a thousand additional Uber drivers who sold rides in Denmark could also be faced with a big bill.
The four drivers had appealed fines issues by the national court — of between DKK 40,000 (~$6,270) and DKK 486,500 (~$76,200) — but the Supreme Court judged the amounts to be appropriate.
The level of fines is based on the number of Uber rides each driver carried out. In the case of the largest fine the unnamed individual had apparently run up 5,427 Uber rides.
Uber drivers in Denmark have also faced demands for unpaid taxes this year, after Danish tax authorities found tax avoidance among almost all of them.
Meanwhile Uber pulled out of Denmark early last year, blaming a new taxi law which includes requirements such as mandatory fare meters and seat sensors. Though it says it continues to engage with local authorities to lobby for the kind of tech-friendly reform which would enable it to return.
When it left Denmark the company said it had more than 2,000 drivers in the market and 300,000 users.
According to AP, today’s Supreme Court judgement paves the way for fines to be issued against a further 1,500 people who had also driven for Uber without a taxi license. A spokesman for the Copenhagen police told Reuters it would assess the verdict and decide how to proceed next week.
At the end of 2016 Danish prosecutors sought to bring a test case against Uber’s European business, seeking to indict it on charges of assisting two drivers of breaking local taxi laws — likely contributing to Uber’s decision to shut up shop there.
In November of the same year the Danish Supreme Court also ruled Uber to be an illegal taxi service, rather than a ride-sharing platform as the company’s lawyers had sought to argue.
Since then Europe’s supreme court, the ECJ, has cemented that view of the business in the region, ruling at the end of last year that Uber is a transport company, not a platform — and locking the company into a new era of needing to work with local authorities to try to reform taxi laws, rather than just burning rubber over their rulebooks.
Under its current CEO Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber is certainly trying to put founder Travis Kalanick’s legacy way of doing business behind it — dispensing apologies and emollient words.
And seeking to enact a pivot to become a multi-modal transport platform — to be able to offer cities something other than just more traffic and congestion on already clogged and polluted roads.
This week it also debuted a new streamlined brand look, after hiring a new CMO Rebecca Messina, who spent two decades selling sugared water at Coca-Cola.
But even as Uber seeks to carve out a new, more progressive looking path its past practices keep coming back to bite it in the boot.
It’s not only the company’s ambitions being dented either; In Denmark, for example, it’s thousands of people who put their faith in its platform to sell driving services now faced with being on the hook for thousands of dollars worth of fines apiece.
Commenting on the Supreme Court ruling an Uber spokesperson told us: “We are very disappointed for the drivers involved and our top priority is to support them during this difficult time.
“We are changing the way we do business and are operating in line with local laws across Europe, connecting with professionally licensed drivers. Drivers who used the Uber app were key in providing a safe, reliable and affordable option to help hundreds of thousands of Danes get around Copenhagen.”
We also asked whether Uber would be paying fines issued to drivers in Denmark as a result of them offering an unlicensed service in the market. The company did not respond directly to our question, saying only that it is in the process of reviewing the Supreme Court ruling and its implications.