Spurred on by looming unfavourable legislation and stock market disappointment, Uber is reportedly playing hardball again, this time with the entire country of Austria.
Uber is already banned from operating in a number of cities and countries, often for undermining extant taxi industries in those places. Briefly, Austria joined the list of Uberless locales when, as part of a case against a local taxi company, a court injunction forced the platform to suspend operations for two days last year. The specific issue at that time was Uber’s model of having individual drivers—who in many markets are treated as “independent contractors” and therefore denied many basic worker protections—book trips with riders themselves, rather than a central dispatch service more akin to a traditional cab company.
This new fight, however, isn’t with a competing small business but with Austria’s government, which could pass a law as early as next month that would put vehicle-for-hire rides like Uber under the exact same tariffs and locally-mandated prices as taxicabs.
Should the law be passed, Uber Austria chief Martin Essl told ORF—Austria’s national public radio station—“a withdrawal definitely cannot be ruled out.” He added that Uber “probably cannot continue with this backward-looking amendment.”
Uber responded to our request for additional comment with the following statement: “The way people move around cities is changing and thousands of Viennese choose Uber to get a reliable ride or to make a living with the app. We hope that the Austrian government will recognise the need for modern laws that acknowledge the important role technology can play in improving mobility in its cities.”
Call it a hunch, but if Austria is considering passing a law that protects taxi companies by wholly removing Uber’s competitive advantage, I’m not sure it particularly cares if the rideshare platform ceases operations—and in fact, that outcome might be considered desirable by both parties. Uber is generally prepared to lobby for its cause and engage in a little sabre rattling from time to time. But if this law passes and it stays in Austria, it will have to prove its economic model isn’t entirely predicated on the egregious exploitation of its drivers. When time could be better spent drumming up interest in the pipe dream that is flying cars, sustainability might be more of a challenge than Uber bargained for. [Reuters]
Featured image: Tasos Katopodis (Getty)