German Uber driver caught out as ban gets personal

A Frankfurt court has ordered a local driver to stop carrying passengers for Uber, after a sting arranged by the local taxi drivers’ association caught him flouting a Germany-wide ban, according to Der Spiegel.

You could see this coming a mile away. When Hamburg and Berlin banned Uber, the company ignored them, keeping its drivers on the road even before it got the bans suspended (and, in the case of Hamburg, scrapped entirely on a technicality.) When the Frankfurt court issued the countrywide temporary injunction last week, it raised the stakes with threatened fines of up to €250,000 ($323,000). And what did Uber do? Ignored them again, and hired a lobbyist.

According to Der Spiegel on Thursday, a board member of the Frankfurt taxi association by the name of Sven Adler got a friend to order an Uber cab in order to catch the driver breaking the ban. If the driver does it again, he could be fined €250,000 – for now he effectively just has a warning.

Judging by Uber’s past pronouncements, the driver shouldn’t count on the U.S. firm paying the fine if he does keep it up. I suspect this incident will warn quite a few German drivers off Uber, particularly as the Frankfurt court also said on Thursday that it’s refused Uber’s request for an immediate suspension of the ban. According to IDG, the case will get a hearing on Tuesday, and Uber may or may not get its suspension then.

Coincidentally, on Thursday the European Commission issued a press release hailing the EU-funded Smartaxi app, for helping taxi drivers locate passenger “hot spots” so they can make more money and passengers can get a cab more quickly. It should also be noted that Germany’s taxi drivers are also totally fine with, which gives passengers Uber-like convenience, if slightly higher pricing, along with the proper licensing and insurance that makes for those higher prices.

For more on this increasingly rambunctious debate, I suggest you read two articles from this week: this piece in the Harvard Business Review, which says Uber needs to “grow up” and be more honest about the realities of the already reliable and entrepreneurial German taxi market, and this one in, in which a spokesman for a libertarian student organization praises Uber’s “civil disobedience” campaign and explains why regulations should be abandoned in favor of slightly cheaper rides.

This article was updated at 9.50am PT to note the Frankfurt court’s refusal (for now) of Uber’s request for a suspension of the ban.