The confrontation has sharpened between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Minister of Transport Yisrael Katz over the entry of Uber into the Israeli market and the introduction of "shared journeys" with private drivers. "Anyone who wants to bring in Uber, let them find NIS 8-9 billion to compensate the taxi drivers," Katz said in the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee this morning, referring to the argument that broke out yesterday between him and the prime minister on Uber in Israel.
"I don't know where the myth of the strength of the taxi drivers comes from; they are not a strong group," Katz said, "With all due respect, we're not talking about the vehicle importers. These are people who work, who have to cope with reality, and my job is to enable them to do so on equal terms. Whoever pays for a taxi license can't have someone coming with their private vehicle to compete with them.
"If the state wants to introduce this, then it should decide, and find NIS 8-9 billion to compensate the taxi drivers. I'm not affected by pressures," Katz added.
The conflict with Netanyahu began yesterday at the weekly cabinet meeting, after the prime minister related how at the World Economic Forum in Davos he had talked to the CEO of Uber, who had expressed criticism of Katz's behavior. Netanyahu said to Katz that he hoped his reforms did not stop when other considerations came into play, hinting at pressure brought to bear on Katz by taxi drivers who were members of Likud.
Katz said in response, "You're saying that to me? I who opened the skies to competition? And the ports and the railways? I have no problem with Uber, only they need to work within the law. If you want, deal with the matter yourself. I'm ready to hand it over to you." "Hand it over," Netanyahu answered.
At that point, Katz became indignant, and warned of the possibility that a driver would pick up a passenger and take them to the territories. "What will you do then?," Katz asked. "Refer them to me," Netanyahu replied, but the exchange did not stop there. Katz turned to Netanyahu and asked, "Aren't you prevented from dealing with the matter because of a conflict of interests?" to which Netanyahu responded, "Set your mind at rest, I can." Katz came back with "My commitment is to Israelis, not to tycoons."
According to transport regulations, no-one is allowed to carry paying passengers except on certain platforms, among them buses, scheduled taxis, and regular taxis. Services such as Uber's UberX (private drivers acting as unlicensed taxi drivers) and UberPool (paid shared transport) are considered illegal in Israel.
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on January 25, 2016
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