Athens Taxi Owners Strike Over Uber Return Fears

FILE - Taxi drivers protest outside the Ministry of Transportation, in Athens, July 13, 2017. (Photo by Eurokinissi/Stelios Misinas)

ATHENS – A union representing taxi owners in Greece’s Capital called a 24-hour strike for June 13 after claiming the country’s creditors are trying to force the government to remove conditions essentially prohibiting competing ride-sharing services like Uber and the Greek operation Beat.

The union, SATA, also warned of repeated strikes if the ruling Radical Left SYRIZA of Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, who gave in to their demands to put the clamps on Uber, does an about face as he did in reneging on anti-austerity promises and lets Uber and other ride sharing services compete with them as they want a continued monopoly.

SATA said the country’s lenders, the Troika of the European Union-European Central Bank-European Stability Mechanism (EU-ECB-ESM) and the Washington, D.C.-based International Monetary Fund (IMF) want repeal of a law that mandates a minimum three-hour car/driver hire, conditions so prohibitive it’s effectively a ban.

In a statement, the union said even threatened to block the fourth review of the ongoing third bailout of 86 billion euros bailout over the issue after a relevant Greek minister rejected the law’s repeal.

In April, Uber said it would stop its Uberx service in Greece in the wake of the SYRIZA-led coalition helping cab drivers who want a monopoly and feared competition.

That came after the government imposed conditions on the ride services essentially making it impossible for them to operate, such as limiting how many passengers a day they could take and finies.

“New local regulations were voted on recently with provisions that impact ride-sharing services,” Uber said in a blog post, Reuters and the business newspaper Naftemporiki said in reports on the service’s suspension.

“We have to assess if and how we can operate within this new framework and so will be suspending uberX in Athens … until we can find an appropriate solution,” the statement said.

Uber operates two services in Athens: UberX, which uses professional licensed drivers, and UberTAXI, which uses taxi drivers and will continue.

The new regulations require each trip to start and end in the fleet partner’s designated headquarters or parking area, something Uber does not do. A digital registry of all ride-sharing platforms and their passengers will also be created.

The company launched in Europe in 2011, angering some local authorities and taxi drivers who said it did not abide by the same rules on insurance, licensing and safety, said Reuters.

UberX launched in Athens in 2015 and more than 450,000 people have used its smartphone app to book a ride, the agency said. The crackdown to protect the taxi drivers set off protests last year from Uber riders who signed a petition launched by Beat – a Greek local ride-sharing service which has also been hit with restrictions.
UberX drivers have to be employed by fleet partners such as car rental companies or tourist agencies and their cars could not be more than seven years old.

The data registry and return-to-garage requirement will only apply to ride-hailing services like Uber and Beat, while taxi drivers will be able to use cars that are up to 22 years old. As earlier reports said Tsipras, whose popularity has plummeted in polls after reneging on anti-austerity promises, wants to keep the voting bloc of the taxi industry.