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Uber starts in Helsinki, denies it’s a taxi service

The controversial lift-sharing app Uber has finally arrived in Finland. The service faces stiff opposition from incumbent taxi services, and the cheaper ride-sharing service is initially available to a limited number of customers as part of an initial 6-month trial.

Taksi voi heinäkuun alun jälkeen olla monenlainen, kun välinevaatimukset höllentyvät.
Uber aims to revolutionise lift-sharing in Finland, but insists its cheaper service is not a taxi operation. Image: Yle

It may be under fire elsewhere for apparently plotting to spy on journalists, but the American ride-sharing app Uber started operating in Helsinki on Wednesday. The company aims to disrupt traditional taxi services, but is not itself—it claims—a taxi service.

In Helsinki Uber is offering two products. Uber Black uses licensed drivers in fancier cars, and is slightly more expensive than traditional taxi journeys.

Uber Pop is a service matching those offering and needing rides, and is to run initially as a 6-month trial, but Uber’s Nordic operations manager Jo Bertram says it should find a place in the market.

“This is for people who want to share the costs of running a car,” said Bertram. “The price of the ride covers the costs of using the car, such as fuel, insurance, maintenance and that kind of thing.”

The firm has faced stiff opposition elsewhere in the world, as it does not operate like a traditional taxi service. Finland is also cautious about welcoming the newcomer.

“Booking systems are possible, and that is what Uber is,” says Silja Ruokola of the Transport Ministry. “What kind of drivers use it, and how they operate, is a different matter.

Uber: “This is not a taxi service”

In other countries some Uber drivers have been operating without taxi licenses. In Finland that isn’t possible, but the company is arguing that it is not really a taxi service.

“In our opinion it’s a different kind of service,” said Bertram. “This is not a taxi service, and we believe that we can operate within the law. This is in any case a pilot. The idea of the pilot stage is that we can consult with everyone, including the authorities.”

Those authorities are keeping a close eye on the company, and will make a decision on exactly how to classify the company when the trial ends in six months’ time.

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