Taxi drivers in London, Paris, Berlin, Milan and Madrid staged huge demonstrations last week to protest against Uber, the private car hire company, which is badly affecting their business. Uber is also present in five Indian cities but the impact of its unique service is being felt more in Europe. The complaint against the San Francisco-based Uber is that the services are not competing on a level playing field. Uber allows users to hail a privately operated taxi through a smartphone app or even organise a car share, bypassing regular taxi drivers. Users of Uber’s services, as in India, get the app to order a cab. The app then calculates the cost of journeys via a GPS system, which usually works out cheaper than the same journey by regular cabs. Uber uses mainly unlicenced drivers looking to earn a few extra euros.
In India, drivers salaries are low so Uber uses their own, but in Europe, anyone with a car can join Uber which describes its mission as being “to make car ownership a thing of the past”. It is that philosophy, and the state of global economy, that has given Uber a kickstart. It has spread in four years to 100 cities in 37 countries. Uber has a current valuation of $17 billion, and its backers include Google. Drivers with their own cars share 20% of the fare with Uber, which makes it attractive for Europeans looking to supplement the family income. Uber also picks drivers with cars that are fuel efficient, like a Toyota Prius, which makes the ride cheaper than a normal cab. In India, Uber’s customers are often amazed at the kind of vehicles and the service provided for a fairly reasonable rate. Regular taxi drivers, however, are not amused.