European taxi strikes against Uber continue

Yesterday, hundreds of Belgian and French taxi drivers met in Brussels in protest of Uber, the controversial transportation service application. The strike was the direct response to the Brussels city government’s decision of creating plans to allow ride-hailing services like Uber to operate in the open market, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Uber's online presence targets young, trendy and in-the-know audiences. Photo from Uber.

Uber’s online presence targets young, trendy and in-the-know audiences. Photo from Uber.

By now most of us are familiar with Uber, even if we have never personally used the transportation service. Marketed with phrases such as “one tap to ride” and “cashless and convenient,” the American start up was founded in 2009 and  gained its popularity abroad in early 2012. Uber is headquartered in San Francisco and currently is in operation in 53 countries around the world. The application’s website is crisp, modern and user friendly. To use the service, a potential customer simply fills out a short form on the website and includes a credit card account for the company to pull from each ride. Each user and driver has a unique profile and must maintain a certain rating to be allowed to continue riding or driving.

Uber’s business model might be making the company soar (last year the company’s value was a reported $40 billion), but its ethical practices and PR stints have turned many against the organization. Several countries have begun to challenge Uber on its tax structure, which includes registering in countries other than the one in which it is operating, thus avoiding higher taxation in countries such as Belgium, for example. This allows Uber to charge lower rates than the more highly regulated, traditional taxi services in that country. An article in the Wall Street Journal quoted a Belgian taxi driver as saying that Uber has taken more than 50% of traditional taxi’s customers through tactics such as these.

The ride-hailing company is also in the midsts of several lawsuits and controversies including being recently banned from the Indian capital of Dehli after a driver raped a woman whom he was driving home. A segment of the company called UberPop, which allows drivers without a taxi license to drive people in their own cars, is now banned in France. In the immediate aftershocks of the recent hostage crisis in Sydney’s city center, users were faced with much steeper prices when trying to get a ride home. This is because of Uber’s automated pricing system, where more users creates higher prices per ride. The company is now trying to make up for this by offering cheaper rides out of the city center, according to CNBC.

^Above video from Ruptly.

Organized strikes against Uber are not a new phenomenon, unfortunately. Summer 2014 saw several strikes against the transportation application, according to The New York Times. Strikes in large metropolises such as London, Milan and Paris severely hindered normal traffic flow as taxi drivers protested the app. Taxiing services in most cities are highly regulated, with drivers having to become licensed and successfully pass exams that require them to memorize city streets. In the case of Uber, drivers act as freelancers or independent contractors and can avoid such tight regulation. However, in a case brought to the Brussels court last year, it was decided that Uber would be charged 10,000€ for every ride a non-licensed driver provides.

The transportation industry is not the only one to have issues between traditional services and new conveniences. Digital platforms have etched away at print publications’ readerships. Skype and Facebook Messenger have begun to take the place of long-distance calling. However, Uber has often been referred to as the most disruptive of these developing technologies. It’s no surprise that those in the taxiing industry fear what an open market might mean for their future.