Today a court in Frankfurt effectively banned Uber in all of Germany. The company Taxi Deutschland, a licensed taxi app, went to court arguing that Uber requires a license. The court agreed with Taxi Deutschland’s interpretation of the legal situation.
For the last couple of years, Uber was able to operate in Germany by working with subcontractors that complied with the German rental car and chauffeur services regulations. That law also mandates the driver to drive back to a dispatching station after every single ride. This is of course not just expensive but also terrible for the environment and just adds additional cars to already congested roads. The plaintiff was able to prove that many Uber drivers do not drive back empty to their dispatching station but keep picking up passengers. While this is good news for the environment, roads, and passengers, it is bad legal news for Uber. Policy makers should realize that this is an outdated regulation and update it according to the realities of many consumers preferring Ubers to licensed taxis.
Uber entered the German market in 2013 and for the last six years politicians kept complaining about Uber not being fully compliant with German laws. Updating these outdated, anti-competitive, and unecological laws did somehow not happen. Instead of legislative changes we see the old-school taxi lobby pushing their special interest successfully through German courts.
The court in Frankfurt also questions whether Uber is merely a platform connecting drivers with passengers or actually the provider of the ride. A spokesperson of the court said that consumers are not aware of Uber being merely a platform. One can only assume that the judges have never used an Uber as to everyone who was in an Uber and had a conversation with their driver it is pretty obvious that the drivers and independent contractors and not employees of Uber.
No one is forced to use an Uber!
In the heated debate about whether ride hailing services such as Uber or Lyft should be banned many people suggest that they aren’t safe as the drivers are not licensed taxi drivers. And while there are definitely black sheep among Uber drivers one can at least be assured to be GPS-tracked during the entire ride and one can give feedback to Uber about bad behavior. More important is that the dimension of choice does not appear in the debate at all: No one is forced to use an Uber. So those who dislike Uber should just not use their services and keep walking, cycling, or taking a cash-only overpriced and smelling Taxi. But those who prefer to use the Ubers of the world should be allowed to choose as well.
Fighting for consumer choice since Summer 2014
I was probably one of the first Uber customers when they started in Berlin. I just loved that I didn’t need to have cash on me and usually spent 30% less than in a yellow cab. When in Summer 2014 taxi drivers all over Europe went on a symbolic strike against the new competition from Uber, two friends of mine and I took an Uber (and paid it out of our own pockets) to the taxi manifestation in front of the olympic stadium in Berlin. We countered the 1,000 taxi drivers protesting by endorsing competition and made some headlines that day.
On the other side you can clearly see that some taxi drivers weren’t happy at all about consumers fighting for their right to choose. Just look at this very angry driver:
The fact that there were literally no consumer groups that stood up for customers like us who wanted to be able to choose between Uber and taxis was one of the reasons why we went on and several years later started the Consumer Choice Center.
There are many outdated regulations that don’t reflect consumer preferences and just serve special interests. In cases like Uber bans this is not just bad for consumer choice but also for the environment and traffic.
My big appeal to German politicians is to update legislation and create a solid framework in which innovative companies such as Uber and Lyft can compete with legacy industries such as licensed taxis. Or as we say in German: Macht die Bahn frei für Wahlfreiheit im Taximarkt!
The Consumer Choice Center is the consumer advocacy group supporting lifestyle freedom, innovation, privacy, science, and consumer choice. The main policy areas we focus on are digital, mobility, lifestyle & consumer goods, and health & science.
The CCC represents consumers in over 100 countries across the globe. We closely monitor regulatory trends in Ottawa, Washington, Brussels, Geneva and other hotspots of regulation and inform and activate consumers to fight for #ConsumerChoice. Learn more at consumerchoicecenter.org