As Uber drivers in London and New York organise for the right to collective bargaining, the boss of Europe's top ride-sharing competitor – MyTaxi, set to merge with Hailo in the coming months – appears to have ruled it out.
A fully-owned subsidiary of Mercedes-maker Daimler AG, MyTaxi's offices are located next to the River Elbe on the outskirts of Hamburg, Germany. The company has expanded so rapidly that it is quickly buying out other floors of the building, and may need to occupy it entirely. It's a brand that might not be well known in the UK now, but in markets where Uber was pushed out for failing to adhere to local regulations, MyTaxi seems uniquely placed to take over.
Indeed, in Germany, it has. The country famously had a spat with Uber when the latter's aggressive expansion plans across Germany fell foul of local regulations. Rather than working with cities, Uber tried to operate on its own terms and was prevented from running its main operations. It exists as a limited chauffeuring company now, much like Addison Lee in the UK.
In Hamburg and Berlin, MyTaxi operates similarly as far as the consumer is concerned, but all of its drivers are registered and licensed taxi operators, a process that is arguably more stringent in Germany than elsewhere. They access drivers through an app, which tells the customer who is near. MyTaxi takes seven percent of the cut. But the unique selling point MyTaxi is going for is regulation, something the company is keen to emphasise in promotional materials.
MyTaxi is enormous in Madrid and the business has its eyes on the rest of Europe too, as Uber finds itself increasingly subject to negative publicity over its treatment of drivers and local regulations. In Ireland, where 'to Hailo' is almost a verb, according to the company, a merger will see Hailo transformed into the MyTaxi brand too.
With the context of expansion in mind plus the financial weight of Daimler AG behind it, the company looks set to collect more markets where Uber has fallen out of favour.
But MyTaxi CEO Niclaus Mewes told Techworld that its workers – who are technically self-employed – will not need to unionise.
"Our taxi drivers love us so they will not do that," Mewes said. "I haven't thought about that because right now we are not the devil, we are the ones with our new system, we help them fight against the old structures and things like that. But now because of the regulations, they love us."
Recently, 'self-employed' workers who work for food-delivery service Deliveroo and rideshare behemoth Uber have attempted to organise for collective bargaining rights. They argue that although they are technically self-employed, Uber is their primary source of income and so should be considered employees. Indeed, this position has some clout with the British government as well.
In the case of Deliveroo, drivers met up at locations designated by an app where they would wait for orders to come through. And although this is not how Uber functions, there are so many Uber drivers on the streets that they are necessarily competing with one another – there are no guaranteed fares.
When asked about this aspect of the so-called 'gig economy', Mewes said that it's a "chicken and egg situation".
"The main problem is normally that you don't have enough drivers," he said. "They have no dispatch company they are connected to, and most cities where we operate the drivers are regulated. In Hamburg for example we have 3,400 taxi drivers and 2,500 plus are connected to us right now. But it's not possible to have more than 3,400?"
He went on to say that Uber is "not really competing" with MyTaxi, except in Poland. "They were in Germany, they were in some other cities and countries, but because of the regulation, they failed," Mewes said.
Following the Hailo merger, currently subject to regulatory approval from financial bodies in Europe, Mewes will move over to Daimler but retain some control of the MyTaxi brand.
As for Europe, MyTaxi will launch aggressive campaigns where customers can get a 50 percent discount campaign. And in Copenhagen, MyTaxi will take no commission at all from drivers until the end of the year.
A spokesperson told Techworld that the business understands it can't compete with Uber in the US, but in Europe it is doing very well indeed.