Nationalistic clichés about Uber and taxis in Turkey

Nationalistic clichés about Uber and taxis in Turkey

Taxi drivers in Istanbul have been trying to deal with competition from Uber in the most banal way, through threats and denials. What’s more, recently there have been reports of violence, knife attacks and shootings.

Outside Istanbul’s Çağlayan Courthouse on March 12, Istanbul Taxi Drivers Tradesmen’s Association (İTEO) head Eyüp Aksu issued a statement, flanked by taxi drivers and license plate owners who had gathered for the latest hearing in the “İTEO vs. Uber” case.

In it Aksu uttered threats to the judiciary, politicians, the security forces, and “global power elites.”

“In European countries taxi drivers have burned things down during their protests [against Uber]. We don’t want to conduct such a protest here. But if parliament doesn’t work on this issue and the justice system hands down a different ruling [not in favor of the taxi drivers], our patience will have run out. Taxi drivers will do anything necessary for their bread,” he said.

Aksu also threatened the press. “Do not make biased news. If you continue making biased news, taxi drivers will do whatever is necessary,” he said.

Referring to Turkey’s ongoing “Operation Olive Branch” in northern Syria’s Afrin district, Aksu said taxi drivers “trust the Turkish Parliament, our president and our prime minister.”

Although it is common these days in Turkey to accuse rivals as supporters of Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ), he then chose to point his finger at the “Jewish lobby” this time.

Apparently the Istanbul taxi drivers need to hire a public relations firm. If they do not, they will lose whatever is left of their much-needed reputation.

The threats were bad enough, but Aksu’s denials regarding the recent attacks of Uber drivers staged by taxi drivers were particularly absurd.

“The Uber drivers themselves are orchestrating those attacks, not the cab drivers,” he said, commenting on a video that went viral in Turkey showing a yellow taxi driver attacking an Uber driver with a knife and swearing.

The recent controversy has prompted ordinary Istanbul citizens to come forward with complaints about taxi drivers cheating, abusing, insulting and assaulting their customers. Not long ago there were reports of a taxi driver taking an Arab tourist from Kadıköy on the Asian side of the city, over the Bosphorus Bridge to the European side, and back over the bridge to the Sabiha Gökçen Airport on the Asian side. The tourist ended up missing his flight. In another report, a taxi driver was accused of trying to kick out the husband and kidnap his wife.

Most taxi drivers may well perform their duties diligently, but the minority of bad apples effect the image of the whole.

It has been explained in detail many times why customers are opting to use Uber over yellow taxis. The differences between the two services providers – from drivers’ honesty to the cleanliness and comfort of the vehicles - have been listed many times.

Unlike elsewhere in the world, Uber rides remain more expensive than taxi rides in Istanbul. The competition between the two is based on quality, not price. But yellow taxi drivers have never pointed to any realistic ways to compete in terms of service quality.

But why should they? After all, they see the whole issue as a struggle for a “national taxi service” against dark foreign forces anyway?

Yellow taxi drivers should first of all recognize that banning the Uber application and similar services cannot solve any of the problems they have been trying to paper over through threats and denials.

Angry tirades using the rhetoric of daily politics, threats and nationalistic clichés are not the right way to positively shape public opinion.

Customers have had enough. They do not want to ride old taxis driven by rude drivers anymore. And the customer is always right.

Kanat Atkaya, hdn,