Uber buckles to Moscow’s demands

Uber, the taxi service, has signed a collaboration agreement with the Moscow authorities. As part of the agreement, the company will have to part ways with unlicensed taxi drivers – and, allegedly, to share driver and passenger data with the local government.

The RBC news agency reports that Uber, the world’s largest mobile taxi-ordering service, was given 90 days by the Moscow transportation department to make sure its registered drivers are licensed by the state. Both the department and Uber’s press service confirmed the signing of the agreement.

The collaboration agreement has two main provisions. One is that Uber agrees to work only with licensed taxi drivers who have a state permit to drive a taxicab.

This differs from Uber’s policy in the United States, for instance, where the company offers an alternative to hard-to-get and expensive taxicab licences, allowing ordinary drivers to earn cash by offering their transportation services through the Uber app.

Because of this lenience, Uber’s work is banned in several other countries that impose stricter regulations on the taxicab market and insist that using unlicensed drivers is unsafe and illegal.

The Russian capital’s authorities insisted that Uber sign an agreement with them in 2015, but the company kept asking for extra time to hold consultations with its top management in San Francisco. In February this year, the Moscow transportation department even threatened to sue Uber and ban it from working in Moscow if it failed to deal with the licence requirements. RBC’s sources also claim some of Uber’s top managers visited Moscow for negotiations with local authorities and demanded access to the state interior ministry databases to check for the drivers’ criminal records. This demand got no sympathy from the city’s transportation department, whose officials claimed such information was outside their reach.

Beyond only working with “legal” drivers, the agreement obliges Uber to share their car movement data with the city’s transportation authorities.

The data on Uber cars and their movements about town is supposed to be passed on to the Moscow city government’s traffic organisation centre, which the transportation officials believe will improve the work of the city’s new intelligent transportation system, which pools data from the municipal transportation networks and monitors traffic in real time.

It uses a combination of methods to monitor and aggregate traffic data, including GPS monitoring systems, a CCTV network for recording traffic violations, parking cameras, tools regulating street-crossing lights, and a networked alerts system for drivers and passengers.

Uber’s main competitors in the Russian market, Yandex.Taxi and Gett, have already signed collaboration agreements with state agencies (Yandex.Taxi signed in 2014, and Gett in January this year), and both now employ only licensed drivers and share their ride data with the Moscow transportation department.

Uber works in 400 cities in 68 countries around the world. In Russia, the service is available in eight cities, but Uber’s VP Ryan Graves told RBC that the company plans to be operating in 17 Russian cities by the end of this year.

Uber, dubbed the most expensive start-up in the world, counts several Russian businessmen among its investors: Ziyavudin Magomedov (owner of Summa group), Alisher Usmanov (through his company USM Holdings) and Mikhail Friedman, whose LetterOne investment fund invested $200-million in the service. – www.globalvoices.org

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