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Europe's cabbies decry competition from Uber app

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 21, 2014 at 3:00 pm •  Published: May 21, 2014

MILAN (AP) — Milan's taxis sat idle for a fifth straight day Wednesday to protest competition from the ride-hailing app Uber, a high-tech challenge that has Europe weighing its consumer benefits versus its threat to old business models.

Uber, a San Francisco start-up, has been banned in Brussels and faces court scrutiny in Berlin. Milan's 5,000 taxi drivers sought similar curbs as they lobbied Italy's transport minister, but at the end of Wednesday's meeting, he told them bluntly to get back to work.

Since the arrival of Uber over the past 18 months, taxi drivers across the continent have been adamant about protecting their turf from the mobile app. It allows consumers to book a ride over a mobile device, breaking free of rigid fare structures criticized as protectionist.

In Paris, drivers for private car services, including Uber, had their vehicles vandalized when they kept operating during a taxi strike. And in Spain, the National Taxi Federation has called for Uber to be banned, saying it was putting 100,000 jobs at risk.

Alfonso Faccioli, a leader of the Milan wildcat protests, said Uber represents unfair competition to taxi drivers, who can pay up to 160,000 euros ($220,000) for a license.

"We are fighting to defend our livelihoods," he said at a protest at the taxi stands outside Milan's train station.

The European Commission begs to differ. Its commissioner for digital technology issues, Neelie Kroes, has expressed outrage at the Brussels court decision to ban Uber and impose 10,000-euro ($13,700) fines for offenders. She said the judgment seeks to protect cartel-like taxi services and is impractical to enforce.

"Are the police now going to spy on our phones to see when we are making Uber bookings? Don't you think the police in Brussels have something better to do?" she said.

Paolo Beria, a professor of transportation economics at Milan's Polytechnical University, said taxi drivers in Italy so far have been successful in slowing market reforms. He said they have maintained relatively high fares and restricted the number of licenses, which ensures a high resale value on them. But they may now have met their match in Uber.

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