Greek plan to regulate taxi apps draws customers' ire

ATHENS (Reuters) - A Greek government plan to regulate taxi-hailing apps, such as Taxibeat and Uber, has angered many consumers who are worried it could disrupt a popular service for their daily commute.

An advertisement of taxi-hailing app Beat is seen at a kiosk next to a taxi rank in Athens, Greece, September 29, 2017. The advertisement reads "Your taxi, your route, your city". REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis

Greece is shaping up as the latest battlefield over fast-growing taxi apps such as Uber, which has faced regulatory and legal setbacks around the world amid opposition from traditional taxi services and disputes over labor rights.

Uber has been forced to quit several countries, such as Denmark and Hungary, and is appealing against a decision stripping it of its license to operate in London.

Greece’s infrastructure ministry has said it plans to introduce draft legislation regulating taxi booking apps, but has given no details.

News of the plan has already drawn a strong reaction with about 30,000 people signing an online petition launched by Taxibeat, a Greek start-up, opposing new regulation.

Media reports suggest the government, under pressure from traditional taxi drivers to act, plans to force ride-hailing app operators to sign three-year contracts with licensed taxi drivers, turning them into fully-fledged providers instead of “intermediaries”.

This will mean operators will have to pay for a license and be subject to strict rules and different tax treatment.

Rolled out in 2011, the Beat app was acquired by German carmaker Daimler this year and has grown very popular for its fast, high-quality rides. Uber is not as widely used in Greece.

Taxibeat, which now has more than one million customers and has teamed up with about 8,000 taxi drivers in Greece, is worried that the government plans will hurt its business.

“I feel the same with the 30,000 people who have signed our petition. (I feel) angry,” Nikos Drandakis, Taxibeat’s founder and chief executive, told Reuters.

“They are trying to regulate the market in a way which, essentially, makes the operation of our app in Greece unfeasible and if not unfeasible ... in any case it will make it very difficult.”

Drandakis said Taxibeat, which also offers services in Peru and Chile, could take legal action against Greek authorities for violating free competition rules.

The Greek union of some 50,000 licensed taxi drivers said the planned regulations were in line with a longstanding demand by their group which has seen its business hurt by increased competition.

“Innovation needs to adjust to each country’s laws,” the head of the union, Thymios Lyberopoulos, told Reuters. “You can’t have a group of professionals being normally taxed ... and a few others not paying at all for the same job, because there is no specific framework.”

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said he wants to boost innovation and business in the country and stem a “brain drain” which has seen thousands of highly-skilled Greeks flee the country since it plunged into a debt crisis in 2010.

Reporting by Angeliki Koutantou; Editing by Adrian Croft