St Petersburg rejects Russian taxi drivers' call to ban Uber

The Russian city of St Petersburg has turned down local taxi drivers' requests to outlaw ridesharing app Uber in a similar manner to some Western governments, saying that it would be up to Russia's national government to decide on the issue.

Taxi drivers in several European cities have strongly objected to Uber, most recently when French taxi drivers staged a violent strike last week, blocking roads in several main cities and physically attacking Uber drivers as well as passengers. The taxi drivers maintain that Uber and especially its UberPop service are illegal competition to them, while French interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve requested that UberPop ceased operation on the same grounds.

Inspired by their French colleagues, St Petersburg's cabbies published an open letter on their site yesterday, calling on the governor of St Petersburg, Georgy Poltavchenko, to ban Uber and other online transport companies such as GetTaxi and Yandex Taxi. The letter claims that the companies are violating the Russian law on protecting fair competition.

It says that these three companies are able to offer services at much cheaper prices than the traditional taxis, and are sometimes so cheap they even compete with the fare for public transport.

Alexander Holodov, the director of the St Petersburg taxi union and the author of the letter, argues that these new taxi apps have turned the city into a "marketing battle field" and that Uber in particular can afford to keep prices artificially cheap without making a profit in order to popularise their brand in Russia.

In response to the letter Andrey Kibitov, Poltavchenko's press secretary took to Twitter to explain that the local government of St Peterburg "does not have the authority to regulate internet services or ban any internet businesses."

"The issue of regulating internet services for private transportation are, from the onset, of a legal nature and thus they need to be raised with the relevant authority," Kibitov tweeted. "The matters expressed in the open letter of taxi drivers addressed to the governor require federal attention."

Speaking to Russian business channel RBV, Michael Fischer the head of Uber in St Petersburg said he had also sent a letter to Poltavchenko, refuting the claims made by taxi drivers. He branded allegations that Uber keeps its tariffs artificially low "unfounded".

GetTaxi CEO in Russia Vitaly Krylov also defended his company's right to continue operating, telling TV channel RBC that his company only employs licensed and official drivers only, while Yandex Taxi told the channel they would make a comment soon.

Uber is currently banned in Spain where taxi associations protested against unfair competition leading to a court ban in December. Meanwhile the company's cheaper, offshoot services UberPop and UberX are banned in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany.