Will Israelis become UberX drivers?
A bill that would allow Uber’s car-sharing service UberX to operate in Israel headed to the Knesset Monday, but faces tough opposition from Transportation Minister Israel Katz.
Though Uber has operated in Israel since 2014, Israeli regulation bars its most valuable feature, which allows regular drivers to become makeshift cabbies. Instead, Uber in Israel operates similar to its Israeli competitor Gett, which allows users to order cabs via a smart phone app and pay with a preloaded credit card.
The new bill, submitted by Likud MK Amir Ohana, would eliminate the ban on drivers accepting payment for giving rides.
“It makes no sense that in a high-tech superpower – the Start-up Nation – at the forefront of global technology, that the branch of public transport is being managed exactly as it was at the state’s founding,” Ohana said.
But the bill has not yet earned the support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and faces stiff opposition from Katz, also from the Likud.
In January, Katz and Netanyahu sparred over UberX after Netanyahu met Uber founder Travis Kalanick at the World Economic Forum in Davos and wondered why the service wasn’t operating in Israel.
Netanyahu backed down, and the next day, Katz told the Knesset Economic Affairs Committee, “If the state wants to put it in place, it should decide and prepare to pull NIS 8 billion to NIS 9 billion from its pockets to compensate the cab drivers.”
Taxi drivers in Israel are put through a costly eight-month licensing course before they are allowed to drive cabs.
Ohana says his bill would include a mechanism to compensate taxi license holders, and still require rigorous screening and criminal background checks for would-be UberX drivers.
“The compensation mechanism for taxi drivers in the bill is the most generous in the world, and ensures they will not be harmed,” he said.
But he also threw a word of caution at the taxi unions that have opposed any such changes.
“At a time when we are talking about autonomous cars coming onto the road by 2020, it’s clear that from here on out, the compensation offer will only be reduced,” he said.