Uber, the popular car-sharing service that took Barcelona by storm and was set to do the same in Madrid, has been accused of doing for the livelihoods of taxi drivers what Airbnb has done for the hotel industry.
The San Francisco-based company utilizes a smartphone application that allows its passengers to connect instantly to drivers with vehicles for hire and allow the customers to track the location of their vehicle in real-time. The service has already been successfully rolled out in 100 cities in 45 countries.
Other benefits of the service include significantly cheaper travel costs and it is also considered a more environmentally friendly trip than traditional taxi-based travel.
The taxi industry – understandably up in arms about the cheaper alternative muscling in on their roads – have tried to destroy Uber’s reputation by implying that they are an illegal taxi operation that advocate unfair business practices and who comprise the safety of customers using their service.
Uber have countered this claim by reporting that all their drivers are subject to thorough background checks that include multiple screenings to check for existing criminal records, and also continue to monitor their drivers’ performance throughout their employment.
Protests have been taking place in Spain since the company’s inception here, as taxi drivers and the Professional Taxi Federation of Madrid took to the streets to protest the arrival of the new service, demanding intervention from the Spanish authorities
However, Uber claim that their service is intended as an alternative to the traditional taxi service, and not direct competition, and because it is cheaper than a normal taxi, it encourages people to leave their vehicles at home, which decreases congestion on the roads and positively impacts on the environment.
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According to Enrique Dans, who is a professor at Madrid’s IE business school, Uber is a modern business model that encourages a new sharing economy.
“Most taxi users don’t have much to say about taxis. Uber isn’t a taxi company, it’s about urban mobility, sharing, the sharing economy. What you end up with is a much more efficient city. Using Uber can be much cheaper than owning a car.”
Peeved cab drivers throughout Europe are still lobbying against the private car sharing service, and in Germany, recently, a German judge overturned a nationwide ban on the car-sharing company, ruling that taxi associations in Germany had waited too long to lodge an appeal against the service.
Last month, a Brussels court banned Uber and ruled that Belgian Uber drivers would be fined €10,000 for each passenger.
Neelie Kroes, European Commissioner Vice-President, admitted that she was “outraged” by this decision: “What sort of a legal system is this?” she said. “This decision is not about protecting or helping passengers – it’s about protecting a taxi cartel.”
During the summer, taxi drivers in Madrid submitted a signed letter to Spain’s Public Works Minister in order to protest against Uber in Spain, and Barcelona Town Hall announced that it would apply fines of €5000 to Uber’s drivers.
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