A battle over the future of personal transportation is being fought on Europe’s streets, with Germany the current front line.
The fight pits traditional taxis against the smartphone application car-sharing service Uber.
The taxi industry is trying to get a ban on the app that connects drivers to potential passengers.
There are two levels: Uber Black, a low-cost, limousine pick-up service, and the newer Uberpop ride-sharing which links private drivers to riders. Uber takes a percentage of the fares for both services.
Euronews spoke to Gerd Lottsiepen with Verkehrsclub Deutschland, an organisation that lobbies for environmentally friendly mobility.
He said: “Maybe, at least for a while, this could be better for customers, due to the greater competition. If it works, Uber is cheaper than taxis. But the question is whether such a system can last, whether it is sustainable. Sustainable mobility means that drivers drive vehicles that are properly maintained and drive them in a safe way. With taxi drivers, who are working for a company it’s just easier to impose minimum standards.”
For Uber – which runs in more than 150 cities in 43 countries – Europe is a mixed picture; some places allowing ride sharing, others not, with court cases pending amid an atmosphere of legal uncertainty.
What is certain is traditional cab drivers see it as unfair competition and a major challenge to their livelihoods.
London streets were blocked in June in protest and the authorities there are seeking a court ruling.
The French government is not keen and is planning legislation, on the basis that this is an unlicensed transportation service that undermines non-profit car-sharing schemes. Paris cabbies made their feelings clear with a ‘go-slow’ in the city.
And there were taxi driver ‘gridlock’ protests in Spain’s capital Madrid, even though Uber does not operate there, though it does run the Uber Black service in Barcelona.
As it continues to fend off legal challenges, Uber’s position is it merely operates an online marketplace to connect drivers with passengers, and so is not subject to rules governing taxis and other commercial drivers.
The German case is far from over. On Tuesday a Frankfurt judge set aside a temporary injunction issued two weeks ago against Uber.
He said the issues in the case brought against Uber by German taxi operator group Taxi Deutschland deserved a fuller airing in court, but lacked the urgency for a temporary injunction. The Frankfurt operators are pressing ahead to get that fuller hearing and a legal ruling.
Other injunctions have been brought in Hamburg and Berlin and competition issues and questions over licensing and insurance have also been raised.
But so far, the company has only pulled out of one city – Vancouver, and it doesn’t seem phased by the controversy.
Uber General Manager for western Europe, Pierre-Dimitri Gore-Coty, said: “Uber is shaking up an industry that has never really faced any form of competition so I’m not too surprised to see those sort of tensions. How we overcome them is actually doing what we do every day i.e. bringing safer, more efficient, more reliable options for people to move around.”