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Uber comes to Slovakia

BRATISLAVA recently joined 330 cities across the globe offering transport by Uber, a smartphone based service with drivers that use their own cars, though it is only a three-month pilot period for now. 

Uber helps people find nearby drivers. (Source: AP/TASR)

While taxi drivers complain about the service, saying Uber drivers fail to meet legal requirements, Uber representatives claim that they will not require the licences only during the pilot period.

“Our sole reservation is so that nobody does business in this field without permission,” Milan Velčický, head of the Cech Taxi Bratislava association which unites some taxi services in the capital, told The Slovak Spectator.

If they do not observe rules, the taxi drivers are ready to take steps to block such a service as has been done in other countries, Velčický added.

Uber has already faced several problems in western Europe and Asia. In France, taxi drivers launched a strike and executive managers of the company were even detained based on the suspicion of illegal activity. In the Czech Republic the police seized two cars with drivers being fined 20,000 Czech crowns (about €740) each since they lacked the necessary licence or the signs, the Pravda daily reported.

In addition, taxi drivers attacked Uber drivers in Brussels, pelting them with eggs. In Hong Kong the police detained Uber’s managers and closed its offices, Pravda wrote.

The representatives of the company claim that the drivers registered with Uber will follow local legislation, while the Transport Ministry also claims it is ready to discuss with Uber the legal conditions of providing the taxi services via its application. They, however, do not plan to change any laws concerning the new service.

Easy to use

“The advantage of Uber is its simplicity,” Ondrej Macko, editor-in-chief of the TouchIT.sk website, told The Slovak Spectator.

Customers use their mobile phone and find out via the application how many available vehicles are close by. After setting the destination they immediately learn the price. After arriving to the place, they do not pay the driver, but the sum is deducted from the users’ payment card whose number they type in during registration. They also can rate the driver, Macko explained. 

Uber is very similar to another mobile application Hopin, though the former is better known. Both applications enable the users to order the transport via mobile phone, but they differ in price and the way of payment.

“Our tests in Bratislava in first days of operation showed that Uber is slightly cheaper,” Macko said. When using Hopin, users pay directly to the drivers.

Among the disadvantages is that users provide all information from their payment card, including the security code. Though they do not know where the information is sent and how it is processed, Macko says he has not lost any money yet.

Another disadvantage is that during the first days of operation there were more customers than drivers, he added.

Taxi drivers complain

Taxi drivers however complain Uber does not follow the rules for taxi services.

According to the law on road traffic, every vehicle collecting a fee for transporting up to nine people, including the driver, is a taxi service and needs to follow several rules. The driver must have a driving licence for at least three years as well as the licence for the service. All vehicles need to be properly marked, have a taximeter and be insured. Moreover, as of April 1, 2015 they need to have electronic or virtual cash registers, the SITA newswire wrote.

The first test drives, however, showed that many Uber drivers do not meet these requirements. Velčický considers it unfair that while their taxi drivers need to follow the rules, those driving for Uber do not have to.

According to him, not only the taxi drivers, but also the state should be interested in Uber observing these rules.

Also several reporters who have tried Uber shortly after it was launched confirmed that some drivers lacked a proper licence. Lokman Kuris, manager for the international expansion of Uber, explained that all their drivers need to have licences. They will allegedly allow them to drive without it only during the pilot period. 

“Our aim is to get more drivers,” Kuris told Pravda. “Thus we will make it possible for them to try to work for us and if they like it, they will have to get the licence.” 

When asked about other deficiencies like the missing signs, Kuris said that they are not a carrier, but technological company so they do not require them. 

“Following the Slovak legislation, the drivers will, however, have to obtain other documents or taximeters,” Kuris told the Sme daily.

Following the law

Transport Ministry spokesman Peter Zeman said that if Uber will cooperate only with taxi drivers with licences, it will not violate the law.

“From the state’s point of view it is important that regarding the safety of passengers a certain quality of taxi services should be guaranteed,” Zeman told The Slovak Spectator.

He also said that taxi drivers and their employers can be checked by police and the municipality. While the former checks for safety and traffic flow, technical parameters of the vehicle, the car documents, and also the ability of drivers to handle a vehicle; the latter checks the car’s markings or whether they have the licences, he added.

If they violate any of the rules, the taxi drivers and companies may be fined up to €15,000, and in case of repeated punishment up to €50,000, SITA wrote.

The sharing economy

Uber brings solutions rather than problems, according to the Institute for Economic and Social Analyses (INESS).

“The arrival of the sharing economy and internet platforms showed people that they in fact have much more capital and possibilities to work with than they had thought,” INESS analyst Róbert Chovanculiak said. 

He explained that the applications enabled improvement of capital flow in the economy though it is not recorded by any statistics office.

“The result is the extension of the market of all consumer goods and services to a new level and increased competition on the side of both supply and demand,” Chovanculiak said, adding that this means greater well-being, better offers for consumers, more innovations, better differentiation of products, more intensive specialisation and effectiveness of the supply.

The sharing economy enables the use of new capital, reduces transaction costs, creates trust between the unknown parties, helps to avoid various regulatory and bureaucratic traps, but also creates many flexible working opportunities and gains many satisfied customers, he said

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