At the end of next week, residents of Tel Aviv will be able to enjoy an unprecedented transport service: free rides. The Uber company, which is sponsoring this gesture, is not acting out of altruism; it wants to allow Israelis to sample the benefits of ridesharing, barred by current law.
Uber already offers ridesharing services in various countries around the world by enabling its customers to order a ride from a private individual who is not a taxi driver. The company plans to offer a similar service in Israel, but must first overcome legal obstacles.
Meanwhile, in order to avoid breaking the law, the travel services will be offered free of charge for 48 hours, amounting to a kind of organized hitchhiking. This hitchhiking service will be provided by a number of volunteer drivers in the Tel Aviv region, who will transport passengers ordering the service through a mobile phone application.
Uber expects lively demand far in excess of the supply, which will probably end in passengers who access the application using it to order an ordinary taxi (at a price still 20% lower than the price offered by other taxis).
Uber's measure is aggravating the already inflammable mood in the taxi sector. The US company, which came to Israel a few months ago and offered an application for ordering taxis, is keeping GetTaxi, its Israeli competitor, awake at nights. GetTaxi strongly opposes the idea of turning private vehicles into occasional taxis.
"It's a gimmick designed to bypass the law, the Ministry of Transport, and the Minister of Transport. We regard this as an unequal situation, and we'll fight it with everything we've got. The minister said this wouldn't happen, and we respect his position. If necessary, however, we won't allow them to deprive us of the bare living we're making now," Israel Taxi Drivers Association chairman Yehuda Bar Or told "Globes" today.
Bar Or listed a number of reasons for the Taxi Drivers Association's strong opposition, saying, "They want to introduce non-professionals with one week of training, while we have to study for 216 hours. A taxi driver has to pass a test on a cab, even though he has a license, and also gets coaching from a professional driver traveling with him for 40 hours."
According to Uber Israel CEO Yoni Greifman, Uber drivers are trained. Greifman distinguishes between the volunteer drivers providing the service only at the end of next week and drivers who will work regularly for the company, if and when the bill allowing the company to provide UberX services passes.
"We took the Ministry of Transport's criteria and made them more stringent. With us, a driver has to be over 23, not just over 21. We require at least three years of experience and 12 years of education, instead of eight. We give 154 hours of training, including study of English and knowledge of Israeli geography. We also make sure that all the vehicles are insured with a valid vehicle license. As long as it's free, it's completely legal, because there's no payment, so the insurance is valid. When the service is for payment, Uber will cover the insurance," Greifman said.
In Israel, however, especially these days, the personal safety of passengers is especially important. The Taxi Drivers Association requires a character reference for every driver. Uber's volunteer drivers at the end of next week are screened, but no character reference is required of them. "All the drivers have been screened. We interviewed them. When we start working with drivers, we'll require not only a character reference, but also the absence of problems in their driving record," Greifman stated.
Is the change on the way?
Greifman: "Uber isn't alone. There are other cooperative transportation ventures, and two MKs, Boaz Toporovsky (Yesh Atid) and Moshe Feiglin (Likud), are now promoting a bill on the subject."
The Taxi Drivers Association is preparing for war: "The bill will not pass, because the Transport Minister said he would oppose it, but if it does pass, the intifada taking place now will pale in comparison."
What is the Transport Ministry saying? Nothing - the ministry chose not to respond to a "Globes" query.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on November 12, 2014
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