Budapest, January 18 (MTI) – Taxi drivers demonstrating against car dispatcher Uber in central Budapest have opened a lane in Andrassy Avenue and one in Bajcsy Zsilinszky Road, respectively, on Monday afternoon.
The protesters had completely blocked traffic in both directions of the two major routes earlier on Monday. The Budapest police warned the demonstrators that a complete blockade was illegal, and called on them to free one lane for traffic.
Zsolt Gelencser, representing the taxi drivers, said that the demonstration was planned to go on till 8am on Tuesday. He said earlier that the move was in response to authorities ignoring their approaches for talks earlier in the day. The drivers wanted to know from the transport authority, the economy ministry, the tax office NAV and Uber’s offices when their demands would be met, he said. State secretary at the Development Ministry Janos Fonagy only said that his “heart” was with the taxi drivers, but could do nothing else, Gelencser said.
Later in the day, Fonagy met representatives of the protesters, and the ministry said in a statement that the government would “continue to do its utmost to ensure the security of passengers and ensure and environment in which taxi drivers can work and make a living”.
The government supports law-abiding and tax-paying taxi drivers, the statement added.
Meanwhile, taxi trade union MTSZ said in a statement that Uber’s operations were not in line with legal regulations. According to the statement, while taxis were required to meet stringent technical requirements, “Uber’s cars are not checked and nobody is interested in their technical condition”. They also said that whereas obtaining a taxi licence required considerable investment, starting an Uber business involved no more than a “passing idea”. The statement also pointed out that taxi drivers had a mandatory tariff system, which Uber did not, and could offer lower fares.
The demonstration started on Monday morning with 100-120 taxis that blocked several lanes at the Bajcsy-Jozsef Attila-Andrassy junction, but left one lane free for traffic to pass at the time.
Signs on taxi windshields showed “Uber” crossed out, “No thanks!” and “Ban Uber!”
One of the taxi drivers told MTI’s correspondent that telecom service providers should remove the Uber app from their web shops, otherwise they would continue to demonstrate. “We’re prepared to be here for several days.”
The taxi drivers said their action is not politically motivated.
Several taxi drivers drove their cars to the City Hall at 11am to present a petition and they held talks with Mayor Istvan Tarlos, but only received support “in principle,” they told reporters after the meeting. In a statement released after the meeting, Tarlos said “tax-paying Hungarian taxi drivers who follow the rules” could continue to count on the capital’s support in the Uber matter. “Uber drivers do not comply with the capital’s tax decree,” he added. “The goal of the capital, with the cooperation of the central government, is to ensure legality; that is, everybody’s compliance with the taxi decree,” he said, adding, however, that the city has neither the “official means” nor the “physical possibility” to prohibit or shut down Uber.
Uber said the demonstration has proven the need for modern passenger transport regulations that take new technologies into account. Talks with officials about the introduction of such regulations are ongoing, the company said.
Government office chief Janos Lazar said the cabinet would discuss the taxi drivers’ case at its meeting on Wednesday. He said all parties would be consulted.
There are about 1,200 Uber drivers in Budapest and the service has about 80,000 users, Uber said last week.