Berlin bans Uber app, citing passenger safety concerns

Barcelona Cabs Strike Against Uber Taxi App
BARCELONA, SPAIN - JULY 01: In this photo illustration the new smart phone taxi app 'Uber' shows how to select a pick up location in Las Ramblas street on July 1, 2014 in Barcelona, Spain. Taxi drivers in various cities have been on strike over unlicensed car-hailing services. Drivers say that there is a lack of regulation behind the new app. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Photograph by David Ramos—Getty Images

The Berlin state government has become the second German city to ban ride-sharing startup Uber’s app, saying it needed to protect passengers, Uber’s drivers–and the city’s licensed taxi drivers.

Uber’s general manager in Germany, Fabien Nestmann said in a blog post that the company will appeal the ruling, having already managed to overturn a similar ban in Hamburg.

The Berlin Senate said in a statement explaining its decision Wednesday that it was an unacceptable risk to public safety that passengers be transported in unlicensed cabs by unlicensed drivers. But it added that “the basic thought of protecting the taxi business also plays a role.”

Uber has frequently styled itself as trying to break down restrictive regulations that benefit only a lobby of established cabbies, but there have been few cases of a government nakedly admitting that it is protecting that lobby.

“By doing this, they are not only restricting Uber, but denying the citizens of Berlin the possibility of a free choice,” the company said in its blog.

Reaction to the ban in social media was overwhelmingly negative.

“And who is going to protect us from the taxi business?” tweeted Marc Herrmann, a local politician in Hanover.

However, other local politicians elsewhere in Germany have lined up behind their taxi drivers, voicing concerns similar to Berlin’s. The trasnport ministry in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, home to the cities of Cologne and Duesseldorf, has also indicated Uber will need proper licensing to operate there. The company started operating in Duesseldorf last week.

Uber originally set up shop in Berlin in February and immediately ran into opposition from the city’s licensed cab drivers.

Uber–which connects riders and private cab drivers with a mobile app–has faced stiff protests from taxi drivers in Europe that have claimed the company is destroying their livelihoods. Those taxi drivers have at times asked their local governments to shut down Uber, claiming unfair competition because their drivers can avoid the often expensive costs and restrictive conditions of licenses.

Uber has steadily expanded abroad: it currently operates in 43 countries, with a bulk of the cities located in North America though Uber also operates in dozens of European and Asian cities (it has also been banned in the Korean capital of Seoul). In Berlin, Uber’s low-cost alternative, known as uberPOP, commands a base far of 1 euro ($1.34) plus 0.35 euro per minute. The minimum fare and cancellation fees are each set at 4 euro ($5.35).

If the ban is held, then not only Uber but its drivers will be liable for fines up to €20,000 ($26,700) for violating it.


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