Pressure mounts on Czechs to take stand on shared economy

Photo: Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine, CC0 1.0

The shared economy has spread fairly fast in the Czech Republic and especially in the capital Prague, as testified by the success of both the Airbnb and Uber applications.

Photo: Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine,  CC0 1.0
But the success has also bought a backlash from the direct rivals of the two services, namely hotels and official taxi drivers. Both have been lobbying for what they see as the unfair advantages gained by Airbnb renters and self-employed Uber drivers to be curbed.

The Czech government has been looking at this problem for more than a year. It though has been looking over its shouldering and seeking some guidance from the European Commission on how it is approaching the problem. In theory, a regulatory light touch looked the most likely to be backed by Brussels, but Prague taxi drivers and, to a lesser extent, hotels would like to see something tougher.

The Czech government had been looking to outline its stand on the shared economy after elections to the lower house of parliament in October. The concept is so far virtually unknown under Czech law, with ministers and officials scratching their heads over the position to take.

That timetable could be pre-empted to some extent with an emergency meeting now convened on Thursday as a result of past and ongoing threats of more protests from official taxi drivers.

They might have taken heart last week from the news that London transport authorities had moved to cancel all Uber licences with the result that around 40,000 drivers could be parked up in the foreseeable future. That decision still faces a challenge in the courts.

The taxi drivers say they are facing an unfair playing field, tough qualify criteria, conditions, and licensing rules while the Uber drivers come away almost unscathed.

Hotels also argue that the users of Airbnb and the rival application, Booking, are also unfair competition. Ironically, hotels are also big users of Booking as well to push their offer of rooms, often paying minimum charges of around 15 percent of the accommodation charges for the privilege. And they can pay even a higher rate of their final takings to get their visibility boosted and push rivals off the main pages. These might be regarded as dubious competitive processes in themselves, and have apparently also been looked at in Brussels.