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US private cab firm Uber drives into Geneva

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US private cab firm Uber drives into Geneva
Uber works by using the GPS on a customer's phone. Photo: Uber
13:24 CEST+02:00
Californian company Uber launched its app-based private taxi service in Geneva at a press conference on Thursday, despite questions from the cantonal authorities about its legality.

Uber, which already operates in 206 cities worldwide, allows people needing a ride at short-notice to request a car via a mobile phone app which uses the phone’s GPS to show the location of the available nearest driver.

The location of the customer is then tracked by the driver, meaning a customer can request a pick-up even if they don’t know the exact address.

Details of the car and driver are transmitted to the customer by text message, and fares are paid by pre-registered credit card rather than cash.

The service, which already operates in Zurich, will offer fares in Geneva at 40 centimes a minute and 2.20 francs a kilometre added to a four franc base charge. The minimum fare is eight francs.

Uber presents competition for traditional taxi services in the city, which cost 3.20 francs a kilometre added to a base charge of 6.30 francs.

A recent study found that Switzerland has some of the highest taxi fares in the world, with a three-kilometre taxi ride in Zurich, Geneva and Lausanne costing more than the same journey in Paris, London, New York and numerous other cities.

According to newspaper Le Matin, Geneva cantonal authorities have questioned the legality of Uber’s arrival in the city.

Quoted by the paper, Caroline Widmer, deputy general secretary of the security department, said: “It seems that the proposed activity doesn’t fall into the category of ‘taxi’ or ‘limousine’ and as such is not authorized by the canton of Geneva as it is.”

However Steve Salom, general manager of Uber in Geneva, confirmed that the service is “200 percent legal.”

Similar grumbles dogged the company on the launch of its service in Zurich last year, when the Taxi Union Zurich objected to Uber’s arrival in an already saturated market.

Earlier this week, a court in Frankfurt, Germany, decided to ban the US company’s operation in the city.

But a day after the court ruling, Uber was reportedly still operating its service in the German city.

Uber was founded in 2009 as UberCab by three entrepreneurs, including the current CEO, Travis Kalanick.

After being accused of illegal taxi operation in San Francisco, the company changed its name to Uber in 2011. It expanded beyond North America to launch services in Europe in December 2011.

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