Executives of GetTaxi competitor Uber have asked to meet with Transportation Minister Israel Katz, as part of the company’s efforts to penetrate the Israeli market. Uber brings together nonprofessional drivers with people who need rides and are willing to pay. Katz has expressed resistance to allowing ordinary car owners to transport passengers for a fee, which is currently illegal in Israel.
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Uber has been preparing for its Israeli debut by signing up taxi drivers to take passengers who order cabs using its mobile application. It is competing with GetTaxi, the Israeli-developed app that is well-established locally and also operates in a number of foreign locations. GetTaxi has said it will not allow cabbies to work with both it and Uber.
Uber VP for Europe, Middle East and Africa and Asia Pacific Niall Wass last week asked Katz in a letter to meet with him. In the letter he described Uber’s operations — minus the part about nonprofessional drivers — and stressed that the company’s services help to reduce drunk driving and cut users’ transportation costs. He also praised some of Katz’s transportation reforms, including the open-skies initiative and the Jerusalem light-rail system.
Uber Israel General Manager Yoni Greifman also sent a letter to Katz seeking a meeting. Gilad Government Relations & Lobbying is also trying to arrange such a meeting on behalf of Uber, as yet presumably without success.
Since the company does not need regulatory approval in order to offer its product in Israel — an application for mobile devices that enables users to hail cabs — it is reasonable to presume the Uber executives also wish to discuss another potential product, which lets users travel in other people’s private cars for less than they’d pay a cab.
Katz has expressed opposition to such an option in the past, stating, “We won’t let the taxi industry be harmed. We expect everyone to respect the rules. A foreign company can’t just come here and start operating without obeying the rules and laws that apply to everyone.”