Economy

Anti-Uber Anger Is Spreading Around The World

Its early adopters swear by the SF-based car-service app. But as Uber expands internationally, local cabbies in Milan and Paris are fighting back. Will rickshaw drivers in Bangalore be next?

Cold days in Zurich
Cold days in Zurich
Julie Farrar

PARIS — Asphalt turf wars that began in California are now spreading to cities around the world as ride-sharing apps, mostly notably Uber, face off with old-school license-wielding taxi drivers.

From San Francisco and Los Angeles to Milan and Bangalore, Uber's revolutionary new economic model allows you to virtually hail and pay for private-car service on your smartphone. It costs a little more, but users love the convenience – and a little extra touch of luxury.

Used @uber for first time last night (up until last week I was one of the last blackberry holdouts) and, well, it's kinda magical.

— Shadi Hamid (@shadihamid) January 29, 2014

But many, especially traditional taxi drivers, have criticized the formula as skirting longstanding city regulations. After cease-and-desist letters sent by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and allegations of the company stealing the drivers’ tips, the most recent controversy comes after the death of 6-year-old Sofia Liu on New Year’s Eve in San Francisco as she was on a crosswalk with her family. The wrongful death lawsuit claims the driver was on Uber’s app at the time of the accident, while Uber says they aren’t responsible and the driver was not carrying an Uber passenger at the time of the accident.

The company says it merely takes a fee for putting drivers and passengers together. And it's a model they want to replicate around the world. Here's how Uber-ing looks in Zurich, Switzerland.

The company operates in 26 countries worldwide, with a presence in more than 60 cities. Uber says its target is to open in two cities a week: This week it’s Honolulu and Lyon, France.

But as the company goes ever more global, they are running into an array of local regulations, disgruntled customers – and most of all, hostile cabbies.

In December in France a "15-minute law" was enacted — giving regular taxis a 15-minute head start against all private companies.

But the backlash against these kinds of companies continues. Taxi drivers took to the streets of Paris on January 13 to protest these urban transportation services, including Uber. The day took an ugly turn when protesters attacked an Uber car with two passengers near Charles de Gaulle airport. A window was smashed, the car hood was damaged and a tire was slashed.

Eventbrite co-founder and CTO Renaud Visage, and Five by Five co-founder Kat Borlongan were the two passengers, who tweeted after the incident:

Attackers tried to get in the car but our brave @uber driver maneuvered us to safety, changed the tire on the freeway and got us home.

— Kat Borlongan (@KatBorlongan) January 13, 2014

Attaqué par les taxis parisiens ce matin dans notre @Uber: jet de pierre, vitre arrière brisée, pneu creuvé, crachats pic.twitter.com/N9UMO248Yw

— Renaud Visage (@renaudvisage) January 13, 2014

"Attacked by Parisian taxis this morning in our @Uber: stones thrown, back window broken, slashed tire, spitting."

Uber released a statement condemning the attack: "That the taxis chose to use violence today is unacceptable, that they chose to strike is their business. However, Parisians also have a choice when it comes to moving around in their cities, and today's incident will certainly not tempt Parisians into choosing a taxi for their next ride. Safety, reliability and choice, not violence, are what continues to draw customers towards private hire vehicles."

By Uber_Paris via Instagram

The company later confirmed that more than a dozen incidents had occurred in Paris and the city of Lyon, where a soft launch of the service is underway.

French cab drivers pay enormous sums for their permits and now feel that their livelihoods are being threatened by these new car services. But customers are increasingly speaking with their e-wallets, especially in cities where it can be hard to find cabs.

Strikes over supremacy

Last week in Milan taxi drivers began protesting in a strike unaffiliated with the major unions. The drivers blocked roads for 14 hours, disrupting Linate Airport and the central train station, citing Uber, accusing the company of “unfair advantage.”

“Uber came onto the market without respecting the rules, becoming a real radio taxi but without playing by our rules and our limitations,” said Claudio Severgnini, head of Milan’s Taxi Tam company. Although his company did not take part in this unplanned strike, he certainly understands where the rage is coming from.

According to La Stampa, the drivers are up in arms that that San-Francisco-based Uber pays its European taxes in the Netherlands, and its drivers aren’t local Milanese — “they’re outsiders, coming from Puglia.”

I tassisti di Milano sono in sciopero contro una app (Uber). Ce la faremo a diventare un paese normale? pic.twitter.com/jhisoDevwi

— Giuseppe Di Piazza (@Giu_Di_Piazza) January 29, 2014

"Milan's taxi drivers are protesting against an app (Uber). Will we ever manage to be a normal country?"

Another strike has been called for February 20 in the city.

Meanwhile, in Asia, the company is making its first inroads in such cities as Shanghai and Bangalore, where an auto rickshaw strike on Jan. 6 saw Uber drop prices by 75% to try to win the trust of locals.

Regulations and rules

Back Stateside, Atlanta is the latest battleground. What blogs were to newspapers, says Creative Loafing website, these startups are to cabs: They are not paying the fees and are picking up fares without any oversight.

The city's entire regulatory scheme has been called into question in a lawsuit filed by a group of taxi drivers who claim it's stifled competition and helped create a monopoly. "We'll ignore the same rules," says Rick Hewatt, CEO of Atlanta Checker Cab. "Either we're going to get everyone on the same level playing field or we're going to make the decision we need to compete.”

Working the loopholes

The cost of an Uber ride is typically 20-30% higher than traditional taxi fares, but when UberX launched last August in Washington D.C., it pitted their rates in direct competition with cabs. UberX works with fuel efficient cars, such as the Toyota Prius, but regulations in the capital ban fuel-efficient cars operating as sedans so the price must be lowered, according to The Verge.

Complaints directly from customers have mostly centered around so-called "surge pricing," when on such high-traffic occasions as New Year's Eve, the rates shoot up.

@uber really? One mile! pic.twitter.com/Q7Ff3s68l1

— Thomas Andersen (@andersen_Th) January 1, 2014

It’s only February but it's already shaping up as an eventful 2014 for Uber. And with new startups trying to apply the same method in various cities, the competition will surely grow even tougher. And, no doubt, more global too.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.

💬  LEXICON

魷魚的勝利

Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS
MOST READ