I'm Sure Austria Is Really Scared by Uber's Threats to Pack Up Its Toys and Go Home

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Photo: Tasos Katopodis (Getty)

Spurred on by looming unfavorable legislation and stock market disappointment, Uber is reportedly playing hardball again, this time with the entire country of Austria.


Uber is already banned from operating in a number of cities and countries, often for undermining extant taxi industries in those places. Briefly, Austria joined the list of Uberless locales when, as part of a case against a local taxi company, a court injunction forced the platform to suspend operations for two days last year. The specific issue at that time was Uber’s model of having individual drivers—who in many markets are treated as “independent contractors” and therefore denied many basic worker protections—book trips with riders themselves, rather than a central dispatch service more akin to a traditional cab company.

This new fight, however, isn’t with a competing small business but with Austria’s government, which could pass a law as early as next month that would put vehicle-for-hire rides like Uber under the exact same tariffs and locally-mandated prices as cabs.

Should the law be passed, Uber Austria chief Martin Essl told ORF—Austria’s national public radio station—“a withdrawal definitely cannot be ruled out.” He added that Uber “probably cannot continue with this backward-looking amendment.” We’ve reached out to Uber for any additional statement.

Call it a hunch, but if Austria is considering passing a law that protects cab companies by wholly removing Uber’s competitive advantage, I’m not sure it particularly cares if the rideshare platform ceases operations—and in fact, that outcome might be considered desirable by both parties. Uber is generally prepared to lobby for its cause and engage in a little saber rattling from time to time. But if this law passes and it stays in Austria, it will have to prove its economic model isn’t entirely predicated on the egregious exploitation of its drivers. When time could be better spent drumming up interest in the pipe dream that is flying cars, sustainability might be more of a challenge than Uber bargained for.

Update 6/19/19 8:58am ET: Uber responded to our request for additional comment with the following statement: The way people move around cities is changing and thousands of Viennese choose Uber to get a reliable ride or to make a living with the app. We hope that the Austrian government will recognise [sic] the need for modern laws that acknowledge the important role technology can play in improving mobility in its cities.





I know uber wants to be everywhere, but I just don’t see the point in Europe. The reason they were revolutionary in America is the taxi companies had gotten fat, lazy, corrupt and didn’t care because they knew they had a monopoly. Compared to the US every European taxi I’ve been in was clean, safe, had a driver that spoke the language (and english as well many times) well enough for me to give directions (in fact many gave excellent tourist tips), drove reasonably and charged what seemed to be a fair price for a fair route.

The widespread problem of fraud, overcharing, long-hauling, unsafe vehicle and unsafe driving that made Uber such an attractive option compared to Taxis just wasn’t there in most European cities I’ve used cabs in.