Promise of changes cools taxi drivers’ Uber ire

A protest by taxi drivers in Prague in 2017, photo: Ľubomír Smatana, Czech Radio

A protest by taxi drivers that would have again blocked the streets of Prague on Thursday was cancelled after a meeting between their representatives and government members. Taxi companies have been assuaged by pledges to reign in the target of their ire: Uber and similar services.

A protest by taxi drivers in Prague in 2017,  photo: Ľubomír Smatana,  Czech Radio
Taxi drivers deliberately created tailbacks that held up traffic in the Czech capital last Thursday and Friday and again this Monday. They were protesting against app-based services like Uber, which have made significant inroads into their business and which they regard as unfair competition.

Taxi firms had been planning to mount another protest on Thursday. However, they called it off after talks between their representatives and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and other cabinet members at the Office of the Government.

The minister of transport, Dan Ťok, told reporters after Wednesday’s meeting that he would put forward fresh legislation to curb the current activities of Uber, Taxify and similar services.

“Today this form of mediation is considered a free business. But it should be an authorised business. It should be clear that the mediation of rides can only be done by licensed taxi drivers. Some companies are abusing the current situation by presenting it as ordering a shared ride with anybody who has a driving license and a car.”

Also present at the meeting on Wednesday was Karolína Venclová, deputy leader of an association of taxi drivers. She welcomed the government’s position.

“They are issuing a statement aimed at Uber and Taxify calling on them to respect the laws of this country. That’s already a major step. It never happened here before that the government acknowledged that we are probably in the right, or that right is on our side.”

Ms. Venclová also said that she expected Uber and like companies to either withdraw from the market or adhere to the appropriate regulations.

Dan Ťok,  photo: Filip Jandourek,  Czech Radio
For her part, Uber spokeswoman Miroslava Jozová struck a conciliatory tone when she spoke to Czech Radio.

“We think it’s appropriate to regulate companies like Uber. We welcome efforts by the Czech government to accelerate that process. We’re willing to hold discussions and to find solutions to the future of transport with all sides, so that we do what is right for users, for drivers and for cities.”

ANO MP Patrik Nacher said that next week a meeting should be called at the lower house of all deputies clubs that support the introduction of legislation to curb the activities of Uber et al.

Meanwhile, taxi sector leader Karolína Venclová said her organisation’s members may have called off Thursday’s action, but they were still on “protest alert”.