• Switzerland's news in English

Luxury private taxi app launches in Zurich

Emily Mawson · 25 Jul 2013, 18:37

Published: 25 Jul 2013 18:37 GMT+02:00

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

The outskirts of Zurich on a sweltering afternoon. The Local is waiting, smart phone in hand, for its private driver. A text rings in:

“Robert (5.0 stars) will pick you up in 15 minutes.”

Minutes later, a shiny black Mercedes S500 pulls up and driver Robert, clad in suit and tie, welcomes us. He asks where we would like to go and what language we would like to speak. Then we settle back and enjoy the air-conditioned seats, TV screens and in-seat massages.

Welcome to Uber, the first service of its kind in Switzerland. Officially launched on July 25th at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich, Uber produces an app which allows customers to book rides with limousine companies and private drivers using their mobile phone.

“It works well,” explains driver Robert, “because I have five or six breaks in my work today, and I can fill those gaps with trips for Uber.”

To celebrate its Zurich launch Uber, which is linked to between 30 and 50 taxi/limousine companies in Zurich, offered complementary rides to customers to and from the hotel. The Local was following in the footsteps of Swiss tennis star Stanislas Wawrinka, who became the Rider 0 for Uber Zurich during the app's testing phase in June.

No exchange of cash

Offering an alternative to taxis, the company claims to have hooked up thousands of drivers with thousands of customers using iPhone and Android technology. It takes the fare from the customer's pre-registered credit card so no money is exchanged.

Customers pay a little more than in a taxi – our ride of 20 minutes and 8.5 kilometres would have cost 45 francs – but in return they get to ride in a luxury vehicle.

“[Although many taxis in Zurich are already luxury car brands] our feedback tells us that the quality of taxis here varies a lot,” says head of operations Ryan Graves at the launch. “What Uber can provide is dependability. You hit the button and know the car is on its way; you know the driver has been vetted, and that the vehicle is going to meet a certain level of quality. It should feel like the same experience every time, so our motto is 'Everyone's private driver'.”

But the launch of the ride-share program, which is already available in 36 cities worldwide, is not without controversy in Zurich.

Unhappy taxi drivers

According to Liz Spengler of the Taxiverband Zurich (Taxi Union Zurich): “The taxi industry in Zurich is unhappy with the launch of Uber. We feel that customers will probably be deceived by the dishonest competition; the drivers charge will far too much and probably earn very little; and, on top of that, the taxi and limousine market here is already saturated.”

Zurich's taxi industry is not alone in its reaction to Uber. In June, the company received a “cease-and-desist” letter from the city of Los Angeles, following claims it was running “rogue taxis” that are “bypassing all safety regulations created to protect riders and drivers”.

Story continues below…

Graves is quick to defend Uber: “While taxi associations or companies may look upon Uber negatively, the drivers who partner with us love the service. This business wouldn't be scaling like it is if we were ripping people off. There is a level of trust that is core to who we are. I think the people at the [taxi] agencies are nervous that the business is changing and that they are going to have to work hard to keep up.”

He adds that Uber has teams in each city to check each driver is properly licensed to local standards. And, in a bid to encourage a quality service and good behaviour, drivers and customers have the chance to rate the other.

“We are always looking for ways to make our service better and I think Zurich will challenge us to do that,” says Graves. “There is a high respect for quality here. In this market, people really understand what quality means and we want to deliver that to them.”

Uber was founded as UberCab by three entrepreneurs, including the current CEO, Travis Kalanick, in 2009. After being accused of illegal taxi operation in San Francisco, the company in 2011 changed its name to Uber. It expanded beyond North America to launch services in Europe in December 2011.

The company hopes to expand into Switzerland's other major cities but, for now, it will be concentrating on meeting Zurich's high standards.

Emily Mawson (news@thelocal.ch )

Facebook Twitter Google+ reddit

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Saas-Fee crowdfunds low-cost season ski pass
Saas-Fee is hoping to attract 99,999 season pass holders. Photo: Denis Emery/Photo-genic.ch

Skiers could get their hands on a whole season pass for just 222 francs ($223) in the Swiss resort of Saas Fee this winter – if enough people want one.

Swiss billionaire fined for dodging import tax
Urs Schwarzenbach owns the luxury Dolder Grand hotel in Zurich. Photo: Wilhem Rosenkranz

Urs Schwarzenbach faces a $4 million fine for failing to properly declare some 200 artworks imported into Switzerland.

Muslim woman wins headscarf court battle
Photo: Jack Guez / AFP

A Swiss court has ruled against a company that fired a longtime employee after she began wearing the Muslim headscarf.

Montreux throws hat in Olympic rings
Could Montreux host the 2026 Games? Photo: Ivo Scholz/Swiss Tourism

Montreux is to put itself forward as the host city for the 2026 winter Olympics as part of a potential bid by the cantons of Valais and Vaud.

Geneva car share scheme could help reduce city traffic
Catch a Car is aimed at short hops within a city. Photo: Catch a Car

Catch a Car, already in Basel, launches in Geneva next month.

Swiss women will ‘work for free’ for the rest of year
Female employees in Switzerland earn 19.3 percent less than their male colleagues. File photo: Randy Kashka

Switzerland's gender pay gap means from today, Friday October 21st, women in the country will effectively be working for free for the rest of 2016.

Swiss luxury watches stolen in Paris raid
Police outside the Girard-Perregaux watch store on Thursday. Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP

The 10 Girard-Perregaux watches are worth half a million euros in total.

Brother-in-law arrested over murder of Swiss teacher
The victim worked in a school in Stabio, near the town of Mendrisio. Photo: Oliver Graf

The primary school teacher was found dead in Ticino earlier this week.

Inside Switzerland’s largest nuclear bunker – 40 years on
Designed to house 20,000 people, the bunker was built in and over two motorway tunnels. Photo: Unterirdisch Ueberleben

The Local takes a tour of the Sonnenberg bunker in Lucerne, opened 40 years ago at the height of the Cold War.

Ten Swiss ski resorts named most expensive in Europe
File photo: Renato Bagattini/Swiss Tourism

Skiers in Switzerland pay the highest prices for their ski passes of anywhere in Europe, according to research.

Photo: Richard Juilliard/AFP
Man makes Geneva airport bomb threat ‘for a joke’
Sponsored Article
Last chance to vote absentee in the US elections
Photo: AFP
Solar Impulse team reveals plans for unmanned plane
File photo: Martin Abegglen
Swiss to vote on passport rules for 3rd gen foreigners
Photo: AFP
Swiss wingsuit hotspot Lauterbrunnen won’t impose ban
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Six reasons Switzerland isn’t as boring as you might think
Photo: Swiss Tourism
Report: Switzerland one of world’s best places for girls
Photo: The Local
Thief returns Swiss cow bells worth thousands
File photo: Wikimedia Commons
One in three rapists isn’t locked up: statistics
Photo: activistin.ch
Tampon-tax protest turns Zurich fountains red
Photo: AFP
Geneva police to lift ban on bearded officers
Photo: Marcel Gillieron/AFP
Suicide chef’s restaurant keeps Michelin stars
Photo: Lara de Salis
11 things the Swiss get tired of hearing abroad
Photo:  Ivo Scholz/Swiss-image.ch
Survey: expats in Switzerland have money but few friends
Photo: AFP
Swiss press criticize Bern’s 'capitulation' on immigration
Photo: Jura Trois Lacs tourism
German ex-policeman is Swiss city’s new hermit
Photo: Dmitry A. Mottl
Ticino votes to favour local workers over foreigners
Photo: file
Some deodorants could cause breast cancer: Swiss study
Photo: Royal Savoy
In pictures: Inside the latest Swiss luxury hotel
Photo: AFP
Geneva airport bomb hoaxer faces 90,000-franc bill
Photo: Schaffhausen police
Mother leaves toddler son alone in car to go clubbing
Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP
Swiss populist attacked by knife-wielding pensioner
jobs available