Whether we’re getting around by car, bike, metro or just heading across the street, it takes a whole city to keep us mobile.
“Everybody’s heard of Uber, it’s become a worldwide brand. It’s not something that can be squashed easily. But they simply take too big a piece of the pie.”
When the international ridesharing company Uber launched a branch in Vienna three years ago, Burhan Aygün, 26, was one of the first drivers to sign on.
“In the beginning we were treated like kings. They gave us smartphones. We would all get together with the manager over coffee,” he recalled. Then corrected himself. “We were treated like people.” But before long, he said, things changed. Terms got worse, courtesies fewer, as pressures on the company’s business model grew. As has been the case elsewhere in the world, the Vienna taxi industry is challenging Uber, accusing the company of a dodgy approach to regulations, tax requirements and pricing. The company has already been banned in many places, including London, Morocco, and Beijing; here court battles are ongoing.
It comes down to the business model: In Vienna, Uber hires rental car companies as opposed to individuals directly, and then brings those companies and passengers together – an attempt to circumvent the European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision to define Uber as a transportation company, rather than a technology company, as it had claimed. Thus far, the company has faced injunctions against only these subcontractors and claims it is still complying with legal requirements, according to a report in Der Standard last October.
“The latest word on the street is that Uber will be done here by summer,” Aygün said. But rumors change literally from day to day. “It’s not a great feeling when you lay your head down at night thinking, ‘I wonder what will happen tomorrow?’”
For now, Uber is still in operation in Vienna, and Aygün is taking measures to deal with an uncertain future. In the past year, his uncle, a licensed taxi driver, has set up a private airport shuttle-taxi service (broxi-driver.at) where Aygün is an employee. He is also preparing for his taxi licensing exam.
“The exam is brutal,” said Aygün, a born and bred Wiener of Turkish-Georgian descent. “You have to memorize every building and address covering 188 routes. I’m lucky, I grew up here, I’ve been doing this for a while. But for someone who’s just arrived? …They need to make a living, too.