The Jerusalem Post
Let Uber in
he current Bennett-Lapid government will not tackle marquee issues such as annexation or territorial compromise because of its ideological diversity and parity structure.
Each party that joined the coalition, from Meretz and Labor on the Left to Yamina and New Hope on the Right, knew this coming in.
Yet they all joined, together with four other parties, because they wanted to sideline then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, put an end to the deep divisions that plagued the country over the last four election cycles, and deal with day-to-day issues to improve the lot of the country’s citizens.
The marquee issues, they reasoned, could wait until another day: Now is the time to focus on bread-and-butter issues that impact people’s lives, and over which there is little debate. As Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in his address Sunday to the Knesset: “We have come to work – for everyone.”
One good place to start would be by legalizing Uber and allowing the international ride-sharing behemoth to operate inside Israel, as it does in so many other countries worldwide.
Why? Because this would dramatically reduce the price citizens and tourists need to pay if they want to get from point A to point B without using their own car, or without having to stand in line waiting for the bus or train. It is ridiculous that a cab ride from Jerusalem to Ben-Gurion Airport, a ride of about 45 minutes, can cost upwards of NIS 320.
Private transport rates in this country are too high, and that is because of a lack of competition. Introducing Uber to Israel would provide that competition and drive down prices. Anyone who has traveled abroad in recent years realizes how easy it is to use the ride-sharing app, and how it makes getting around so much more convenient and affordable.
Netanyahu understood this as well. After returning from the Davos Economic Forum in 2016 where he met Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, he came back convinced this was something Israel could use.
But then he met resistance from the transportation minister at the time, Yisrael Katz, who – Netanyahu hinted – was coming under pressure from the country’s powerful taxi union to keep Uber out. Despite Netanyahu’s initial enthusiasm, the idea of allowing Uber into Israel died. It’s now time to resurrect it.
It is understandable why the country’s taxi drivers oppose opening the market to Uber – this is a phenomenon that has repeated itself around the world – but that does not make it right. A nation of 9.3 million should not have to pay jacked-up taxi fares because the cab drivers union is strong.
That union is also influential, and widely identified as significantly being Likud supporters. Before the elections in March 2020, this union – and the taxi-driving public – was targeted by Netanyahu during that year’s close campaign. The prime minister went from wanting Katz to battle the cab drivers, to courting them.
But now that Israel is coming out of a two-and-a-halfyear election cycle, there will be less of a need to court narrow interest groups. Moreover, now that the Likud – over which the union had strong influence – is no longer in power, this is an area where the new government could act fast, without significant political fallout for most of the coalition partners. New Transportation Minister Meirav Michaeli’s Labor Party, for instance, is not beholden to this union.
There will, of course, be pushback by the taxi drivers, and some form of compensation package should be considered to those who paid large sums of money for a taxi license that will become less lucrative if the roads are flooded with Uber drivers.
The argument will also be made that in Israel, where terrorism remains an issue, having people get into random private cars is a security risk.
But there are ways around this, such as vetting and security checks for Uber drivers. If Israel can knock 90% of Hamas rockets out of the sky with Iron Dome, as it did in the recent military campaign, it should be able to figure out a way to make sure Uber drivers pass some sort of security test – the kind that already exists for taxis.
Michaeli should do all Israel a favor and start her tenure by letting Uber in.