UPDATE: Just as we suspected (they are that predictable): the taxi drivers and the government have reached an agreement, with the authorities promising that they will issue an emergency ordinance that will all but make Uber illegal.
Bucharest’s taxi drivers are on strike today (and will be tomorrow, too). Thousands of the bastards will block Piata Victoriei in order to demand that the government declare Uber (and other application-based ride-sharing services such as the equally impressive Taxify) illegal. Their pathetic (although well-coordinated and possibly stage managed: read on) protest is proof that they still do not understand anything about how markets work, nor that the biggest enemy of Bucharest’s decent taxi drivers (there are some) is not Uber, or Taxify, but other taxi drivers.
Ideally, those taxi drivers on strike today and tomorrow will stay out on strike forever.
As we have now said and written several million times, Bucharest’s taxi drivers are by and large a national disgrace. Their cars are often old and not up to scratch, and their interiors can smell rotten. Many taxi drivers smoke even when they have clients in their cars, and almost all will regularly refuse fares if they consider the journey too short. Often, drivers will refuse to put their metres on and demand a flat fare, well above the going rate. Just last week we were at Therme, and although we were driving, out of curiosity we asked the taxis lined up outside how much a trip to the Sheraton would cost. ’80 lei’ was the answer. With the metre on it would cost between 40-50 lei. All of the taxis outside Therme were from what we would consider to be a trusted Bucharest taxi company, Speed.
Then there is the fact that Bucharest’s taxi drivers tend to consider themselves above the law. They drive too fast, ignore half the rules of the road, park wherever they like and block traffic as a matter of course.
And one more gripe: in our experience taxi drivers have a tendency to listen to Radio Zu in the mornings, featuring Daniel Buzdugan and Mihai Morar, perhaps Romania’s most puerile entertainers. If you ask them to turn it off they start moaning.
By comparison, Uber drivers cannot reject fares, their cars have to be clean and their taste in radio stations is usually far superior: in fact, they are required to ask if you want the radio on or off.
Uber is not perfect (and we freely admit that we had doubts at the beginning: we did not think it would work in Bucharest). Some drivers are better than others, but we have noticed that bad Uber drivers do not last very long (the five-star rating system helps). Uber operates surge charging (when prices are often double) far too often, and drivers are also far too reliant on the navigation app Waze. Given the choice, however, there is no contest: Uber and Taxify remain much better options than standard taxis. Taxi drivers know this, which is why they are pissed off.
The drivers’ main arguments are that Uber and Taxify are (i) unauthorised and (ii) avoid taxes. On the first claim, they are right up to a point: Uber drivers are not authorised to be taxi drivers, which is why they are not allowed to pick up passengers off the street as taxis can. They are private drivers, who merely work for tens of different clients a day and use a smartphone app in order to find those customers. They are not taxis, so why should they be authorised as such?
On the second point, the taxi drivers are way off beam. All Uber drivers have to register as either a PFA (the Romanian equivalent of self-employed) or Srl (a limited liability company). They also have to register for VAT regardless of their income. Every journey they make is taxed. Can Bucharest’s taxi drivers say the same?
Alas, we do not see Uber well. The Bucharest taxi mafia is strong and we have a sneaky suspicion that today’s protest is carefully stage-managed. The Minister of Transport Razvan Cuc will be very publicly seen to negotiate with them, before giving in to at least some of their demands. We hope we are wrong, but years of experience tell us otherwise. The PSD does not like the free market and will do all it can to destroy it. The PSD likes monopolies it can control and demand tribute from.