Uber's war of attrition in Europe continues as Dutch police arrest 4 drivers
Uber's struggles in Europe continued over the weekend after four Uber drivers in Amsterdam were arrested by Dutch police for operating transportation services without the proper permits.
According to Bloomberg, a Ministry of Environment & Infrastructure spokeswoman Yeter Atmaca said the drivers could be fined up to 4,200 euros or $5,300 each. The arrests were made as part of a sting operation in which Ministry inspectors posed as passengers.
This is only the latest in a series of setbacks in Europe for the transportation software giant, which most recently was valued at $17 billion. Last month, France passed a new "anti-Uber law" that prevents mobile ride-hailing services from sharing a driver’s location with potential riders. Uber was also briefly banned in Germany until a judge lifted the temporary injunction. That ban ended up being a publicity boon for Uber which saw "an unprecedented increase in signups" in Germany during the 24 hours following the injunction.
As in the United States, Uber faces unique industry pressures and regulations in each new market it tries to enter. Some of the concerns over Uber, like ensuring appropriate background checks and insurance coverage, are perfectly valid. But others, like the anxieties of the incumbent taxi industry that rightfully fears losing business to a better and more convenient service, are not.
For Uber's part, it wrote in an email to Bloomberg that, "This action is unjustified and disproportional. We remain in touch with the policy makers to familiarize them with how our technology works and the positive impact it has on mobility.” It's worth noting that the company's drivers have been ticketed, and their vehicles impounded in multiple cities in the US as well, indicating you don't need to travel around the world to find disproportionate reaction to Uber's transportation market disruption.
Uber's efforts to break into hostile markets is a true war of attrition -- as in Germany (and New York), where the ban was later lifted and Uber saw huge gains in sign-ups, the game is about taking one step back and two steps forward. The company noted that signups swelled 590 percent immediately following the ban. I wouldn't be surprised if the publicity created by these arrests in Amsterdam also results in a growing interest in the service.
The soldiers on the front lines of the this fight, however, are not the billionaire corporate guys in suits negotiating with regulators -- they're the drivers who risk arrests and fines by flouting the law on behalf of Uber. And as such, $5,300 is a steep price to pay to be the tip of Uber's proverbial spear. Let's hope it was worth it and that the company makes these drivers whole in some way. We'll no doubt hear more on this saga, in Amsterdam and in countless other markets around the world.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]