It hasn’t been an auspicious new year for Uber. In addition to losing an appeal in a high profile lawsuit that accuses the company of exploiting its workers, Uber has retreated out of Frankfurt, Germany after only 18 months of operation.
In Frankfurt, a city of 690,000, the ride-hailing smartphone application closed its offices in early November after failing to woo local authorities and potential drivers. The San Francisco-based company, valued at an estimated $70 billion, struggled to keep up with the city’s stringent regulations.
With state requirements such as health exams, security checks, and mandatory state-issued licenses for cab drivers, maintaining low-cost services such as UberX – in Europe, it’s called UberPop – proved difficult, if not impossible.
As UberPop has been banned on a national level in Germany for skirting licensing requirements, the company has also left Hamburg and Düsseldorf. Its only remaining operations in the country are based in Munich and Berlin, though Uber executives say demand certainly exists among residents who are frustrated with traditional taxi services.
“Have we made mistakes? Absolutely,” Mark MacGann, Uber’s head of European policy, told The New York Times’ Mark Scott. “But the current system in Germany artificially protects incumbents who think they have the right to own the market.”
In Uber’s shadow, an array of new rivals has emerged, boosting the existing taxi infrastructure in Europe with Uber’s most attractive features: on-demand pickup, fare quotes, and in-app payment.
Taxi.eu, for instance, was able to to reap the benefits of Uber’s straining European expansion campaign. Run by the managing director of a Berlin taxi dispatch center, Hermann Waldner, the app is now available in 12 countries and employs about 160,000 drivers.
“We need a strong network to fight against Uber,” he told The Times. “That’s the only way to stay strong against Uber.”
The founder of MyTaxi, another German app that uses licensed taxi drivers, argued that Uber’s aggressive and uncompromising ways wouldn’t bode well in his country.
“In every country, you have to be prepared to change your setup,” Nic Mewes said. “That’s why Uber failed here. They aren’t willing to change when they enter a new country.”
In Frankfurt, Uber’s brash operations not only angered lawmakers and regulators but also sabotaged it's own future services within the law. After a yearlong legal battle against taxi trade organizations, Uber switched to licensed drivers in May. But it was too late. Its abrupt and aggressive arrival on the market a year prior had already alienated taxi operators – the same ones Uber was now trying to recruit.
Uber is also facing difficulties in other parts of Europe. Cab drivers and organizations in Paris and Madrid have violently confronted the company and UberPop was recently terminated in Amsterdam.
In the US, Uber is able to to elude certain taxi regulations by qualifying as a ride-sharing service rather than a cab service. To compete with Uber, American taxi companies have followed suit with their versions of the app concept.
Although not every app is a winner, some have been able to match Uber’s sleek convenience. For instance, The Wall Street Journal’s Anne Kadet named New York City's Arro app as winner in a November showdown with Uber.