Uber Draws Fire From Europe’s Cabbies
But protest seems to backfire.
Read Part One of our two-part coverage on Uber here.
Uber the smartphone app that allows you to summon a cab on demand has sparked Europe-wide demonstration in an attempt to preserve a way of life for the tens of thousands of cabbies across the continent. Mass protests took place in London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, Berlin, Milan and Rome as the cabbies protested against the app.
Uber is part owned by Google and Goldman Sachs, and the technology is said to feature highly in the thinking behind the new Google Pod and the tech giant’s push to introduce an autonomous mobility on demand (A-MoD) concept to service our future urban transportation needs. Taxi associations throughout Europe seem to have a number of beefs with the new cab service. Chief amongst them is the ability for just about anyone to become a taxi operator using the phone as a booking service and as a de-facto taxi meter, hence operating in defiance of existing law.
‘The problem here is that Uber is operating outside the law. There is no question about that. But someone on high has made a decision to leave Uber alone. Why? It is sinister,’ Steve McNamara, the head of the London Licensed Taxi Association, said. ‘By using a mobile phone to track a journey and charge a fare on the distance and time travelled, Uber is operating a meter which only licensed ‘Black’ Cabs are allowed to do.’
London has long pride itself on the quality and standard of its licensed taxis, which are referred to as ‘black cabs’ as they are traditionally painted black, but are in fact called ‘hackney carriages’. McNamara argues that London’s cab meter rates are fixed. In contrast, Uber’s fares are set by the company. This enables it to charge a “surge” fee during busy periods. It is noteworthy that in San Francisco, where Uber started and is now well established, the surge pricing has proven controversial. London’s cabbies also need to be checked out by the police and have to undergo criminal and medical checks, be wheelchair accessible, and pass the knowledge test. Uber drivers, on the other hand, need only a minicab license and commercial insurance, which will lead to a deterioration of the service and possible abuses in the future.
The Institute of Directors has compared the demonstration to the Luddite machine-breakers of the 19th century who tried and failed to stop the spread of mechanised weaving machines.
‘Black cabs have been a symbol of London for many decades, known across the world. But symbols, no matter how iconic, cannot be allowed to stand in the way of innovation,’ said Director General, Simon Walker. ‘Uber and its rival apps are an example of the positive disruption new technology brings, offering consumers new choices about how to travel.’
‘The battle over taxi apps gets to the heart of what creative destruction means. As a nation, we have to decide whether we want to open ourselves up to more choice and competition, or protect existing industries at the expense of consumers,’ he added.
Another argument that seems to be gaining strength is the corporate organisation of Uber, who have their European corporate HQ in Holland where all invoices go, in much the same way as Apple or Starbucks do, both of which were heavily critised for not paying the appropriate corporate tax in France, UK and Germany.
In a statement, the company said: ‘Uber complies with all applicable tax laws, and pays taxes in all jurisdictions, such as corporate income tax, payroll tax, sales and use tax, and VAT.’ Although, we are not sure that we believe them…
In an ironic twist, it looks like the protest could have backfired after Jo Betram, the UK and Ireland General Manager for Uber, announced there had been an 850% increase in new users as gridlocked urbanites across Europe tried to cope with the mayhem. There is an old saying after all that ‘no publicity is bad publicity’ – this protest aptly demonstrated this theory and the power of the new app.