UberPop drivers who do not hold an official professional taxi licence are operating illegally, according to the government in Zurich. They need to get a permit or risk facing punishment.
Even if they readily meet the conditions set by Uber – having a four-door car, being at least 21 years old – not having a taxi licence means they are operating outside Swiss law, said the Zurich executive, responding to a parliamentary question.
The regional government’s position is that not only UberPop drivers need to apply for a licence to operate, but they should also install a tachograph to record the speeds, driving time, breaks and rest periods of the driver.
For its part, the Californian company claims that the rates charged by its “Pop” service are so low that they do not constitute a sole source of income for a driver. Thus, its argues, the notion that these drivers are operating a full professional activity is not relevant.
The debate is not new in Zurich. UberPop drivers have previously been fined by authorities for operating without a licence: a documentary by Swiss public television, SRF, last year found that Zurich cantonal police had taken action against 139 Uber drivers, and the city of Zurich police 79.
Fines for operating without a licence could reach CHF10,000 ($10,255). Police also issued a warning that if a driver was found to be lying during a check – claiming to be a friend of the passenger, for example – he or she could risk up to three years in prison.
The controversy caused by the entry of Uber into the Swiss market has led to parliamentary debates and some large protests by professional drivers. The low rates offered by the Californian company – well below traditional prices – have angered those who fear the unregulated competition.
Various rulings have gone against the company in recent years. In 2015 Uber was banned in Geneva after a tax dispute. And last year, health insurance company SUVA stuck a spanner in the works of Uber's business model when it decided that a driver involved in an accident was an employee, not self-employed, as Uber prefers to present it.
Nevertheless, the company has grown rapidly since launching in Switzerland. In April this year, its figures showed 177,000 active users in the French-speaking region alone, up from 40,000 in 2015. It is currently available in Geneva, Lausanne, Basel and Zurich.
Uber offers three types of service: UberBlack uses professional drivers operating high-end sedans; UberX is an intermediate range of cars; UberPop, at the lower end of the scale, is operated by any individual with a four-door car who signs up on the company’s website.
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