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Ride-hailing dispute Swiss unions slam public service alliance with Uber

Unions say it is 'scandalous' that firms close to the federal authorities give transport mandates to Uber

(Keystone)

Unions held a protest in Bern on Tuesday to express their anger at a collaborative deal and mobile phone app launched by the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB), Swiss Post and the ride-sharing taxi service Uber.

Around 100 union members – including many taxi drivers – demonstrated in the Swiss capital, blasting the railways and post services for “complicity in violating Swiss laws”.

Unia, Switzerland's largest single trade union, the transport personnel union (SEV) and the media and communication union (Syndicom) are especially critical of the mobile phone app “Mon voyage” of the SBB and the NordwestMobil PostBus regional and rural bus service. There are plans for the app to offer a function to book taxi services and Uber rides in the coming months.

The unions declared that it is “scandalous that firms close to the federal authorities give transport mandates to Uber,” which offers a cut-price service that “systematically breaks Swiss law”.

They urge the federal services to immediately end any collaboration with US-based Uber, which has faced regulatory hurdles around the world.

Global shake-up

Uber’s ride-hailing service has triggered protests by taxi drivers from London to Johannesburg and New Delhi, as it has upset traditional business models requiring professional drivers to pay steep licensing fees to drive cabs. In Switzerland, Uber is available in Geneva, Zurich, Lausanne and Basel.  

Swiss taxi drivers have repeatedly complained about and protested against what they consider to be unfair competition from Uber. Unions have accused the San Francisco-based firm of undercutting fare prices, lacking adequate insurance cover, and failing to enforce the type of quality controls that standard taxi firms are subjected to.

However, the Swiss government takes a liberal approach to such new businesses. In January, it announced that instead of protecting traditional business models, it supported deregulation, which it said would maximise the potential of the digital economy.

Economics Minister Johann Schneider-Ammann pointed out that a third of economic growth in Europe today is digitally based and represents “a huge opportunity”.

He acknowledged, however, that risks exist with digitalisation and sharing platforms such as Uber and Airbnb, which have disrupted traditional business models and threatened jobs.

The cabinet commissioned a report which pointed to a parliamentary review calling for taxis and firms like Uber to operate on a level playing field, for example by loosening labour or transport regulations.

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