Top level meeting convened to tackle Prague taxi crisis

Photo: CTK

A top level meeting has been convened by the Czech government to try and calm an explosive situation between Prague’s licenced tax drivers and self employed drivers using the Uber application. The hastily convened meeting follows a go slow protest in the capital at the start of the week which snarled up traffic in the centre and to the international airport.

Photo: CTK
The conflict between Prague’s licenced taxi drivers and those using the Uber platform has been smouldering for months. Licenced drivers claim they are being undercut by Uber rivals who don’t pay the official taxi licence fees, often don’t have adequate insurance, and dodge taxes.

And it escalated on Monday with a city wide go slow protest by licenced drivers after their demands for the city council to solve the situation failed to bring results. Previous protests have seen clashes at the airport and riot police called in.

Uber has been offering its services in Prague for three years now. In September, it said active users now total around 400,000 and journeys had risen over the previous year by a massive 340 percent compared over the previous 12 months compared with the previous 12 months. Call response times have been cut to four minutes from 12 when the service started in Prague.

Photo: CTK
But Prague’s licenced taxi drivers say Uber’s apparent success has largely come at their expense. They have warned of sustained protests in Prague as long as their demands are not met.

A meeting of experts to seek some way out of the continuing conflict has been called for Thursday. It will be headed by the government appointed coordinator for the digital economy, Ondřej Malý, and include representatives of the finance, industry, and transport ministries as well as Prague and Brno city councils.

But even between cities and ministries there doesn’t appear to be much agreement on whether Uber drivers should be treated like the licensed drivers or vice versa or if the mobile phone platform is even a taxi service.

Uber wrapped up its services in the Czech Republic’s second city, Brno, after a court found that the service broke scores of rules and regulations. But no similar step has been taken in Prague.

Dan Ťok,  photo: Filip Jandourek
And while the Ministry of Industry and Trade appears uncertain whether Uber should be categorized as an information or transport service, the Ministry of Transport gives a more clear cut response that it is indeed a taxi service and should be regulated as such. Minister Dan Ťok gave his verdict:

"According to us, the drivers as well as the service provider [Uber] fall under the terms of the our law covering highway transport because they are in effect a taxi service."

Prague city hall also seems to share that view with mayor Adriana Krnáčová warning that she has run out of patience with the taxi car protests and has ordered a crackdown on drivers using new powers that officials now have at the fingertips, which includes fines of up to 100,000 crowns.