Uber’s Last-Ditch Petition to Avoid Taxi Rules

A new law would impose standardized cab fares on ride-hailing services Uber and Holmi – which they and the NEOS say undermines fair competition.

Uber has launched an online petition protesting a new law that would require “rental car services” to follow the same rules as taxis, including government-set cab fares. The company has contacted users by text message, gathering over 38,000 signatures in the last few days, with numbers still increasing.

The app-based ride-hailing service had escaped earlier efforts to force conformity by classifying itself as a “rental car service”. But the new law – supported by the ÖVP, FPÖ and SPÖ – would remove that distinction, creating an overarching new trade category of “passenger transport in PKWs [standard passenger vehicles],” thus applying the same rules to all drivers and companies.

The measure is opposed by Liste Jetzt and the NEOs: “With centralized price-setting and totally outdated regulations” the “old parties” ignore the “actual needs of the economy and the preferences of consumers.”

Uber criticizes the new law as reducing consumer choice and endangering thousands of jobs: “The opportunities afforded by digitalization to increase quality, security and sustainability will be passed by and in part, even knowingly rejected.” The entire process has been “questionable,” Uber Austria boss Martin Essl told the daily Kurier, complaining that only the traditional taxi sector had been consulted on the bill.

Existing taxi regulations cover everything from a dress code for drivers to rules about how much change they need to keep on hand. They also standardize fares, which are determined by each federal province. These designed to prevent under-bidding and ensure fair payment for drivers, as the daily Der Standard reported, as well as guarantee passenger safety. Fares in “normal” cabs tend to be somewhat higher than in Uber cars. Backed by private investment, Uber offers rides at loss-making rates, as Metropole has reported – leading to concerns both about fairness towards its drivers and whether the competitive pricing is sustainable.

The bill was voted out of the traffic committee last week, and goes before full plenary in early July. If the law passes Parliament, Uber has said it may withdraw from the Austrian market.

Naomi Hunt
Naomi Hunt is a managing editor at Metropole, with roots in the U.S. and Malaysia that have long been buried under Austrian soil. She previously served as a program manager at the International Dialogue Centre (KAICIID) and was a Senior Press Freedom Adviser at the International Press Institute (IPI).

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