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All over for Uber in Hungary

July 15th, 2016

Just like most public issues in Hungary, Uber’s pull-out divides commentators along political lines, with those on the left-liberal side accusing the government of protecting corrupt interests, while pro-government authors claiming that Uber does not excel at paying taxes.

Uber Hungary announced on Wednesday that it will suspend its operations because the latest rules adopted by Parliament would hit its drivers too hard, with the threat of the confiscation of their license plates. In an official statement the competent government department said the authorities just require Uber, like all other competitors to abide by the same rules and pay taxes. Two years ago the Budapest Council imposed standard tariffs on taxi companies, compelled them to paint their cars in yellow and equip their vehicles with GPS devices as well as online payment systems. Uber drivers on the other hand operate with smartphones and therefore could avoid that initial investment.

In Népszabadság, Miklós Hargitay describes the rigid pricing system introduced two years ago as a hotbed of corruption thanks to which taxi companies got rid of competitors and managed to double their profits. Uber could become popular in Budapest, he continues, because the taxi service had become too expensive in the absence of free competition. He does not understand why the authorities should prescribe compulsory tariffs for taxi providers, while the prices of basic commodities like bread and milk depend on market competition. Hargitay also accuses unnamed ‘influential people’ of investing their unlawful gains in real estate and predicts therefore that they will not chase Airbnb, a shared economy  apartment letting system (very much resembling Uber) from Hungary, because it allows them to make money.

One exception to the rule is 444‘s Gergő Plankó, who despite his reputation as a fierce critic of the government, does not side with the opposition over the Uber story. He warns that ‘while the Internet is flooded with sweet Uber videos’, the company is a real shark when it faces a challenge. Two years ago one of its executives was recorded talking about a million dollars to be spent on secret inquiries into the private lives of journalists who criticise Uber. At the time the company said those were just casual words without any consequence in practice. Now Verge Magazine has revealed that Uber secretly investigated its legal foes, by hiring a ‘CIA-linked intelligence firm’.

On 888, Gellért Oláh publishes a map of the world with a number of countries  that have banned or are planning to ban Uber because ‘it is not keen on paying taxes’. He dismisses claims that by chasing Uber away, Hungary is ‘returning to the Dark Ages’ or is being ‘ejected from the digital world’. Oláh quotes former PM Ferenc Gyurcsány’s promise to bring Uber back if he is re-elected and cautions him against ‘going against basic western trends’.

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