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News 20 Dec 17

Uber Clampdown Leaves Many Romanians Dismayed

As Romanian taxi drivers protest in front of the government headquarters in Bucharest, complaining that Uber and Taxify carpooling apps steal clients, many passengers and drivers wish to defend the two companies.

Ana Maria Luca
BIRN
Bucharest
Taxi drivers portesting against Uber of Wednesday, December 21. Photo: Octav Ganea/Inquam Photos

Romanian passengers and drivers defended carpooling apps on Wednesday, as the European Court of Justice ruled that Uber is a transport company and must respect European Union legislation in the field.

The decision came as hundreds of taxi drivers protested and blocked traffic in front of the Romanian government building against digital taxi applications and what they deemed “illegal transport companies”, such as Uber and its junior competitor, Taxify.

Carpooling applications are becoming more and more popular in Bucharest and across the country, to the annoyance of regular taxi drivers who fear loss of business.

“They’re taking our customers, they don’t pay as many taxes, and are not officially authorized,” a taxi driver protesting in front of the government building told BIRN on Wednesday.

He also said that since the two applications started to function in Romania three years ago, taxi drivers have had to work harder to recover their expenses, because they have less clients.

Bucharest city council on Tuesday adopted a decision to modify taxi company regulations in the capital so that all firms now need to have a call centre and may not rely only on digital applications for orders.

Moreover, the new regulations bar drivers from refusing rides, from asking for tips, and require them to be “decently dressed” and not engage the clients in conversations on sensitive topics. Cars must be equipped with a PoS and all companies are required to also have mobile applications so that customers can order online.

“We all want Bucharest residents who call a cab to be able to enjoy a safe and comfortable ride,” Mayor Gabriela Vranceanu Firea said on Tuesday after the city council meeting.

Despite her reassurance, taxi drivers took to the streets on Wednesday and said they would protest until Friday, mainly against Uber and Taxify. They say the problem might be solved in Bucharest, but not in other cities in Romania.

“Uber can stay in Romania, we don’t have a problem with that, but they have to get the authorizations according to the law. Nobody is above the law,” the head of the Authorized Operators and Transporters Confederation, Vasile Stefanescu, said on Wednesday.

“At a first sight, the decisions made by the City Hall council do not affect Uber service,” Uber said in a statement on Tuesday.

“We’ll analyze the situation and will be back with suggestions to avoid abuse. We want to be a partner for Bucharest City Hall,” the statement added.

Romania is the second biggest market for Uber, after Poland, in Eastern Europe and the fifth in the EU. The application is active in four Romanian cities and has over 450,000 users, 350,000 of them in Bucharest.

However, the city hall's move to ban centralized taxi applications that allow feed-back for drivers and clients and replace them with separate apps for each taxi company has left many passengers unhappy.

“I understand why they’re debating Uber or other applications like it, but banning centralized applications with ratings for companies and drivers and replacing them with separate apps for each taxi firm only encourages rude taxi drivers who lost clients because of their low ratings!” one passenger in Bucharest told BIRN. “Besides, how many phones and apps do you need to find a cab at rush hour? Seriously?” he added.

Another passenger told BIRN that, as a woman, she felt safer using Uber and Taxify, because their drivers are seldom rude, and if they are, they get less money.

“I never encountered a rude driver with these apps. However, I’ve experienced a long series of rude taxi drivers, who refused to take me to certain places because it wasn’t on their way, who sexually harassed me, who cursed the entire way, or who simply smelled bad or tried to rip me off,” she pointed out. “Even if you complain, nothing happens to them, they’re still on the roads harassing clients and other drivers,” she added.

Valentin, 42, who has been working with Uber for two years but has also started to work with Taxify during the past few months, says both companies requested his criminal record, proof that he had not had a car accident in the past five years and also provided the technical check-up for his car.

“Its not like we’re criminals. We’re a registered company, with vetted drivers and we take feed-back very seriously. Just last week a passenger left an umbrella in my car. I sent it to the company headquarters, they contacted the customer and sent him his umbrella back. The guy was German. They received an email from him saying he had no idea Romanians were so nice,” he said. 

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