(Image: Polizei BL)
(Image: Polizei BL)
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Local News Summary of November, 11th

  • A18 motorway open again after van fire 
  • Uber Pop: Basel is a paradise for illegal driving services

A18 motorway open again after van fire 

A van driver had a lucky escape on Friday when the van he was in burst into flames.  The van had caught fire at a construction site between the Hagnau and Muttenz-Süd junction on the A18 motorway. 

A spokesperson for the Baselland police said the van was not carrying any dangerous goods and the driver was able to escape from the vehicle when the fire broke out. Nobody was injured but the van was completely destroyed.

According to current police investigations, the fire broke out in the van’s engine. The cause is most likely a technical defect.

The A18 in the direction of the Jura was temporarily closed during the incident, with traffic redirected from Muttenz-Süd. The fire led to severe traffic jams on the A2 between Gellert/Hagnau, and cars were temporarily diverted. Traffic heading in the other direction of the A2 between the Schweizerhalle-Tunnel and Hagnau was also severely disrupted, with drivers waiting several hours in traffic jams.

Uber Pop: Basel is a paradise for illegal driving services

The penal court of Baselland has fined an “Uber Pop” driver: Despite his claims of innocence, a judge found he had been driving illegally for commercial reasons. However, for those who object to Uber operating in the region, this verdict is only a partial victory. Campaigners claim the city government remains "passive" and that as a result, Basel-Stadt is a "paradise for private taxi drivers". The city’s public prosecution is currently dealing with 32 cases of illegal commercial driving.

“Uber Pop” is a handy service: Friendly part-time taxi drivers take passenges through town in their own cars and it is comparatively cheap way of getting around. Licensed taxi drivers cannot compete with these cheap rides. However, the company insists that its service is nothing more than a “hobby”: Uber claims that its “Pop” drivers do not earn enough (compared to other private taxi firms) to make a living. There is a word for this method: Dumping.

The accused driver was not called to Baselland's court because of so-called dumping but because he had been driving for commercial reasons. Without the necessary permits and technology, such as a tachograph, the “hobby” becomes an illegal part-time job. The 40-year-old driver had earned around 23,000 Swiss francs in a nine-month period. 

This is against the law – and also the reason why “Uber Pop” has been thorn in the side of actual commercial taxi drivers from the beginning. The “Uber X” and “Uber Black” services, on the other hand, follow regulations: they are more expensive and regarded as real competitors for taxi services. This is where the discount service “Uber Pop” differs.

"Basel is too lax and attracts drivers from across the border"

Now, the court in Baselland has finally delared “Uber Pop” a commercial "personal transportation service". With this move, “Pop” becomes open to legal and political considerations: the argument that the service is “unprofitable” no longer applies. Whoever drives for commercial reasons needs to follow regulations. This should also be so in Basel, but the city authorities are seen as very lax. Since the drivers know about this situation, Basel has become very popular for “Uber Pop” drivers from across the border, who often drive to Basel to earn more money.

Social Democrats president Pascal Pfister: “An illusion of the authorities”

Nonetheless, the accusations are harsh: The government of Basel is too reluctant, too passive, and hopes that the problem will solve itself. Zurich is used as a good example for a city where Uber cancelled its “Pop” service all of a sudden. Yet this step was preceded by a clear announcement of Zurich’s government in which it declared “Uber Pop” as illegal. Basel lacks such measures. The left-wing government is far more liberal than that of Switzerland’s biggest city.

“It is an illusion of the authorities to hope that the problem will solve itself,” Pascal Pfister, president of the Social Democrats (SP) of Basel-Stadt, says. He is analysing the case from a political perspective and – like his fellow SP politician and “Gruppe Taxi” workers’ association member – is one of the keenest observers of the situation. 

“Uber will continue to exploit the situation in Basel until we take action,” he said. The verdict of the Baselland court makes him feel reluctantly optimistic. Still, it does not liberate the government from acting in the same manner regarding more general regulations for commercial driving; it does not matter whether Uber positions itself as a public service, as an agency, or (as decreed by the EU) as a transportation company.

Reckless transportation beyond legal considerations

In Basel, Uber customers can in the future profit from discount prices as well. Uber is popular, even though its “Pop” brand – just like the company itself – is still presented as unprofitable. The company, according to its own claims, is in its initial growth phase. Thanks to such claims, local taxi services are literally blown away by international investors’ capital – and Uber has no regrets.

Uber does not make it easy for anyone – including its own customers: if people really would just like to spend a few Francs for a comfortable ride and support honest competition, they could book the legal alternative “Uber X”, Uber says. However, this service is still not really available in Basel. Instead, the city at the Rhine is full of amateur “Pop” drivers. And as long as the political climate does not change, these illegal hobby drivers will continue to offer their service across town.