Uber must pay €250,000 per ride, according to court ruling in Germany

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2019/12/19/uber-must-pay-e250000-per-rid.html

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under German law hired cars are obligated to return to their firm’s main office after dropping a passenger off

I understand the law as stated but it seems like the type of law that allows for inefficiency. Additionally the other part of the law that requires the employer to get the job before someone can accept it also seems archaic. That said i’m not going to shed a tear for Uber.

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Additionally, under German law hired cars are obligated to return to their firm’s main office after dropping a passenger off.

We should not be propping up this kind of nonsense. This is exactly the kind of thing that disruptive companies like Uber are supposed to eliminate!

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I think we should be trying to understand how this kind of nonsense came about to begin with and what problem it was intended to solve before deciding that it sounds like inefficiency and demanding it be scrapped.

I’m sure there are lots of companies that would like to create efficiencies by disrupting environmental regulations that say they can’t dump poison in the river. Or create efficiencies by disrupting anti-slavery laws that say they can’t just import workers from a poorer country and force them to work on pain of beatings.

Even if the law is archaic, it may be solving a problem that should still be solved, just in a better way.

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You’ll have to convince me that useless trips back to the physical location of the dispatcher aren’t some holdover from the old days before we had radios.

I’d guess the rule was probably to prevent people from skimming from their employer by taking fares without informing the dispatcher, but that concern is obsolete in smartphone driven systems and would be simply wasteful today. And if this is the case it is doubly distasteful because it would be an example of corporate policy getting enshrined in law instead of just being part of the employment contract.

I’m not dumping on the concept of regulation out of hand, but a case like this seems difficult to defend from the outside.

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A lot of times laws like these were built up by entrenched players in the industry as barriers to competition, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing here. This is taxi companies suing Uber.

I understand that Uber is a POS company at the top, but it has brought some innovations that I would like to keep. Things like clean, comfortable cars, fast rides taking the shortest routes, and car-hailing from my phone. Every Uber ride I’ve taken has been cleaner and more comfortable than every taxi I’ve taken.

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I’m not trying to convince you the law is not obsolete or archaic. I just think that examining laws to see whether they are obsolete and archaic is something we should be doing publicly instead of letting Uber ignore the law.

I know the idea of drivers not taking extra fairs without their employers knowing sounds like corporate policy enshrined into law but the idea that your employer has to know every time to pick someone up is also anti-rape policy. Which is the kind of policy Uber definitely ignored when it started up.

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Uber does know when every fare was picked up though? It’s a fundamental feature of their system. In fact they go to great lengths to make it basically impossible for someone to impersonate your Uber pickup for nefarious purposes. Compare to a traditional cab where if someone can just decorate their car with the appropriate stickers and snatch people off of the streets. Uber’s system is a lot safer in this regard.

Where Uber failed was in providing background checks on the drivers. But traditional cab companies didn’t do that either for the most part.

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I think the “obligation to return” law is to keep chauffeured rental cars from competing with taxis. As an example, it means a limousine can’t take a passenger to the airport, then wait at the airport for the next passenger, as a taxi might. Uber is classified as a chauffeured rental car service under German law.

This is an instance where companies have opted to sue to maintain the status quo, rather than adapt to modern customer expectations. This is also an instance where the German people could modify the laws so that everyone wins. They could craft a new set of laws that apply to ALL small-vehicle paid transportation, whether it’s a limo, taxi, or Uber. There’s no reason why taxi drivers shouldn’t be able to grab an Uber fare when the opportunity is right, for instance. Trapping everyone in these narrow lanes only serves the interests of the corporate executives.

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I’ve also had some bad experiences with cab drivers taking the long way around. And I’ve definitely had some gross cab experiences. And the owners of cab companies in the US are notoriously exploitative of their employees. That medallion does not guarantee anything other than that fees were paid.

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This is going to be the last time I’m going to say that I don’t have a reason to think that law is accomplishing what it means to accomplish. (Though if the only current upside of that law is that it fucks Uber, that in itself might outweigh the harm it does.)

I don’t think Uber being lawless is the solution to the problem of obsolete laws. Current laws and customs are the product of a complex history, and “disruptive” companies are mostly billionaires trying to remake societies as radically individualist overnight.

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FTFY.
UBER is bad, but this law makes no sense.

ETA: Ok, because I think @Humbabella has a point, I’ll rephrase: “…but this law is in serious need of review.”

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I do think there’s room for modernizing transportation regulations and laws, both in the US and abroad. And i am certainly not a fan of companies willfully running counter to regulations/laws, i do like seeing tangible quick results when something catches momentum and popular opinion is on their side but the downside to that is that these companies create a culture where they do whatever they want knowing they can get away with it.

In Uber’s case they can go pound sand, Germany is in the right to bring the hammer down on them but i do hope they take Uber’s lessons to heart and try to make things more consumer friendly where it makes sense to do so. In many countries it seems like taxi companies are deeply entrenched and wield more power than the consumers do.

Thank you. JFK is said to have liked to quote the following from G.K. Chesterton. (It is also a favorite quote of conservatives, but that doesn’t make its fundamental premise wrong.)

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”

The full thing is available at the Internet Archive at:

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Yes, but they are laws, and ignoring them before you get them changed is illegal, not “disruptive”. Disruptive is to illegal as (physical) “bullying” is to assault. It’s wordplay designed to make what you’re doing seem less like something the police should be interested in. Of course you’re more competive in a regulated space if you ignore all the regulations, but that’s not a business model, that’s a scam.

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I’m amused that Uber is having problems in Germany, the country that originated the word “uber”. So… is Uber “over” in Germany?

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The law sounds antiquated to me, but it’s refreshing to see “disruptive” businesses forced to navigate the same legal hurdles their predecessors are already beholden to.

No, I don’t. I am with Humbabella on this one. Take the London black cabs, for example. There is a system that required an extraordinary knowledge of the streets of London, known as ‘The Knowledge’. This takes many years to acquire, and actually changes the shape of the brains of the drivers in the process. This limited the the number of cab drivers to the number that the custom could support. If you got your cab licence, you had a job for life unless you showed yourself unsuited to the job. I cycle in London, and there are many things to fear, but black cabs are okay.

If the Knowledge is made obsolete by a mobile phone, and you feel people should be undercut if new technology allows - in this case by a company that manifestly does not care for their employees or their fares - then there will be too many people scrambling after too few fares. I would argue that someone who has invested a significant portion of their lives in gaining the Knowledge should justly have their job protected for a similar period, obsolete or no. The law is poor at reacting to change, but it can at least force the newcomers have to abide by the same laws as the current drivers.

I am not sure Germany means to charge Uber €250,000 per ride, but it is a damn good way of opening negotiations. Yay Deutschland!

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Unless London was unique in that regard, in most major cities in the West, the number of cabs is limited not by the onerous nature of any training, but by regulatory design. In many cities, licence numbers are capped and any new licences are auctioned. That means the existing licence holders have a strong incentive to lobby against the issuing of more licences - new licences create more competition and dilute the value of the existing licences which are traded and exchanged and held for speculative purposes. NY’s taxi tokens were at one stage trading for $1,000,000, so you can imagine the strong incentive not to issue any more.

I’m no fan of Uber - driver exploitation was a major flaw of the taxi industry where I live, and Uber has just substituted one master for another. Taxi markets around the world are in desperate need of reform, but Uber’s business model essentially depends on replacing a poorly-regulated market with an unregulated monopoly.

(ETA - disclaimer - transport policy wonk who’s worked on taxi / rideshare industry reforms)

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What the law really says is that a driver has to return to the office after dropping off a passenger, if they don’t have a new passenger lined up already. As far as I understand the law, they can also change course at any time on their way home if there is a new passenger available. But the passenger’s request needs to be made with the office, not with the driver. All this applies to rental cars only, of course, and not to ordinary taxis.

Uber can’t and won’t can’t offer taxi services in Germany, mainly because:

  • taxi pricing is strictly regulated (so that the passenger knows exactly what to expect, regardless of who operates the taxi)
  • taxi drivers need to take any passenger who hails them on the street when the taxi is free
  • taxi drivers need a specific taxi license (whereas rental car drivers only need a license to transport passengers)
  • taxis often need to pay a fee for picking up passengers as airports

Edit: Here’s a link to the law, in German obviously, but google translate does a surprisingly good job on German law, I found.

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