Milan taxi drivers march against Silicon Valley ride-app Uber

Milan taxi drivers march against Silicon Valley ride-app Uber
3:52pm EDT
By Naomi O’Leary and Isla Binnie
MILAN (Reuters) – Striking taxi drivers marched through Italy’s second city Milan on Thursday in protest against app-based ride service Uber, a Silicon Valley prodigy that has drawn furious opposition as it seeks to become a global force.Demonstrators demanded that the authorities crack down on ride services that taxi drivers say are illegal, and banners held by protesters and draped over cabs made it clear the main target was the increasingly prolific Uber, a smartphone-based service that connects users to their nearest chauffeured car.
Valued at $3.5 billion and with investors including Google Inc, Uber is considered one of the hottest properties in Silicon Valley. But it has met with hostility and regulatory hurdles as it expands from its San Francisco hometown to more than 70 markets worldwide.
An anti-Uber protest in Paris turned violent in January, local cab companies are fighting it in court in Chicago, and the app has been blocked by law from operating in several cities in the United States.
In Milan, Uber says its drivers have been confronted aggressively and their cars damaged, and posters calling its regional general manager a thief have appeared around the city.
Milan’s taxi unions say that because the app allows drivers to be summoned while in their car, it violates a 1992 law which describes hired drivers as a service ordered from the garage where their business is based, as distinct from taxis, which can pick up passengers on the move.
“There was illegality in Milan before Uber, but this is more malicious,” said Raffaele Grassi, head of Milan taxi union SATAM and town councilor. “Technology cannot be used to evade the law.”
The taxi unions are a strong lobby group in Italy and have repeatedly fought off attempts to liberalize the industry and increase the number of cab licenses available. Licenses are often passed down from father to son and according to drivers they can sell for six-figure sums.
The town council last July ordered Uber cars to return to company headquarters between each ride, irrespective of the location of their next passenger. But this was suspended by a regional court that said the rule was “irrational” given the advent of mobile phones.
Uber, which launched in Milan a year ago before moving into Rome, says it has made allowances for the laws in place and operates in line with all regulations effectively in force.
As commuters struggled to get to work on Thursday, there were signs the taxi strike could be counter-productive as Uber was left as the obvious alternative in a city where ride-service rivals such as Lyft and Hailo have yet to gain a foothold.
In a busy square in central Milan, exasperated pedestrians surveyed a line of empty taxis with ‘out of service’ stickers in their back windows.
“This is a disaster. You can’t just shut down a city like Milan,” said 33 year-old advertising executive Raffaele Sperelli as he tried to find a different way to get to a meeting.
In response to the strike, Uber cut its prices by 20 percent for Thursday, and said business was up significantly.
The price cut was characteristic of the fight between Milan’s 5,000 taxi drivers and the service, which has heated up as Uber rallied users to Tweet their support and lobby the city council against what it describes as a taxi monopoly.
Uber has yet to offer in Italy the low-cost version of its service available in its main U.S. markets, where drivers offering rides are ordinary people with cars rather than professional chauffeurs, something taxi drivers in Italy say they will oppose.
Opposition to Uber in Italy could grow as Milan union leader Grassi said he would meet with national leadership next week to discuss a nationwide strategy to combat it and similar services.
Cab driver Vincenzo Mazza, 62, summed up the current antagonism in the taxi stands outside Milan’s central station.
“They come and arrogantly park next to us, knowing very well they do not belong in the piazzas,” said Mazza, who has been driving taxis for 40 years.
“They steal our work, it’s absolutely illegal, and they use American law … which puts them outside local rules. We will never accept it.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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