Uber is dead. LONG LIVE THE TAXIMENSCH
Thus Spake Berlaymunstra.
OK, not quite.
But could we pause a moment, Eurovillageois, and take a time-out from the breathless vilification of a Brussels court decision to prohibit a private-car company from offering a service to rival the city’s authorised taxis.
Uber is a fantastic service. BM and friends and colleagues attest to its magnificence having used it in other cities.
But it’s not as if the judgment from the Brussels court would come as a surprise to the company, which went into the Brussels market knowing full well that the prevailing system would not simply roll out the red carpet for a private rival to the authorised and regulated handful of incumbent firms and their many drivers.
And EU ‘Digital Agenda’ commissioner Neelie Kroes’s strongly-worded blurt yesterday on the ruling, as well as drawing headlines (not least a front page … that’s FRONT PAGE … Financial Times piece), has raised eyebrows.
The strength of her rhetoric on the topic – “crazy… show your anger …” – complete with bold type and exclamation marks – is about the strongest this administration has shown over anything during its mandate, that has seen national economies and behemoth banks crumble, the rise of the far right, galloping eurosceptic lies gather momentum, and Putin park his tanks on our eastern doorstep, among many other big issues considerably more worthy of such shoutiness.
It is also curious that an EU commissioner should jump to the defence in such a way of a single company, and by name.
Despite her protestations to the contrary, this Brussels decision is not “anti-tech.” Such a comment is an attempt by Kroes to have the issue fall within her portfolio of competences. But the fact Uber offers its service over an app is by-the-by. The service itself is a transport service.
And the Brussels system for allocating operating licences is not, as Kroes notes, a “cartel.” The former EU commissioner for competition policy should know better than to bandy around such an accusation.
Brussels is within its rights to decide how it licences its taxis, within what’s legal, and there’s no suggestion from Kroes – or anyone else yet – that the regime is illegal.
For Kroes to pass her own judgement that “the current system isn’t working” simply isn’t correct either. Nor is it her place to pass that judgement.
And to cite an investigation into cases of rape by bogus taxi drivers is a cheap shot. She also, in her hyperbole, gets it wrong, mischaracterising the offences. These were awful crimes, that should not be used to score political points in this way, just to promote some tenuously-linked tech-innovation policy.
Make no mistake, Brussels citizens would benefit from a service such as Uber. Because it’s a good service. But the city of Brussels has to strike a balance and consider the jobs of the quasi-public sector, regulated taxi drivers that are currently licensed to operate.
Brussels also has to take care not to risk bringing the national and European capital to its knees by attracting the ire of said taxi drivers, who can block all traffic at the drop of a hat, and have done so in the past when they felt their jobs and income were under threat.
The regime may have its flaws. Everyone has a tale of a driver not turning up, or overcharging, or being rude. Some recount worse. But the system broadly works and is priced fairly reasonably.
Kroes, as an occasional Brusseleir, may be with her rights – alongside many others in the town – to bemoan the faults of the existing Brussels taxi regime, and to regret that a shiny new app-based private service can’t saunter in and offer customers what they’d prefer.
But her intervention was uber-the-top, and well uber-and-beyond the scope of her responsibilities .
In the meantime, *hat-tip* to Uber themselves for the PR coup.
And a full *hat-doff* to the many, many Brussels taxi drivers BM has encountered over the decades, who work long and hard hours ferrying around spoilt eurobrats, and don’t enjoy access to an institutional press apparatus and 100 000 twitter followers to defend their business.
And don’t worry, Neelie, this bite won’t scar. These teeth are papier-mâché.