The CHP’s project to win Istanbul: Kicking out Uber
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) held its convention in early February to shape its cadres as the country heads for three elections in 2019. CHP head Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu has repeatedly said the party aims to win the mayoralties of the six biggest provinces, including Istanbul, Ankara and İzmir, in the local elections scheduled one year from now.
But a plan recently revealed by Akif Hamzaçebi, the CHP’s secretary general who is among the names tipped to run for the Istanbul mayor’s post, shows that the party has a lot of homework to do before going back to the public to ask for their votes.
In a move to please the city’s cab owners and drivers, Hamzaçebi put the global transportation company Uber in the party’s crosshairs. “We will expel Uber, which menaces Istanbul’s cab drivers tries to steal their jobs,” he said on Feb. 27 during a visit to the chamber of cab owners.
His remarks prompted a backlash on social media, with thousands of users accusing him of “siding with the cab owners’ mafia” and “ignoring the party’s voters for the sake of a handful of people.”
Hamzaçebi’s comments came 10 days after CHP deputy Barış Yarkadaş also blasted Uber, warning that “yellow anger is about to explode.” So we can say that being anti-Uber is a CHP party policy.
Cabs and cab drivers in Turkey, especially in Istanbul, have been a source of complaints for many years, including tourists visiting the country’s biggest city. Almost all travel websites warn travelers to be aware of cheating cab drivers. Taking a longer route to the destination or demanding euros instead of the Turkish Lira price displayed on the taximeter are among the most common methods of cheating.
Just last month an Istanbul prosecutor demanded up to 10 years in prison for a taxi driver for fraud after he picked up a Saudi Arabian citizen from Kadıköy on the city’s Asian side and took the third bridge over the Bosphorus to the European side before dropping him off at the Sabiha Gökçen Airport, which is on the Asian side.
Indeed, there is not a single Istanbul resident who has not met a cab driver refusing to carry the customer “because the distance is too short.”
In such an atmosphere, applications such as Uber and Careem give citizens the chance to hire a car for any distance, knowing the approximate price before even getting in the car. Customers also get the chance to check out the car and its driver beforehand, tracking the car after their trip if necessary (if you have ever forgotten a bag in a yellow cab in Istanbul and tried to track it down then you will know how important this is).
The applications also allow customers to rate drivers, forcing the drivers to “behave,” unlike the yellow cab drivers, many of whom give you the option to “get off here” if you dare to complain about something.
The problem with the yellow cabs lies in the system: There are around 17,500 official cab licenses in the city distributed almost 30 years ago when the city had a population of six million. Those limitations increased the price of a cab license plate to around 1.7 million Turkish Liras ($450,000) today, when the city’s population exceeds 15 million. There are people and companies who own hundreds of license plates and hire them for 6,000-7,000 liras per month. These entities then sub-let the plates to drivers, who pay around 300 liras a day for them. The system allows many people to earn money without doing anything, and the pressure on the drivers, the final link in the chain, to make money dooms citizens to put up with uneducated, unwilling, rude drivers.
Siding with cab owners, whose easy money is threatened by the growing new systems that have already led to a decrease in cab license plate prices, is not the way to solve the problem. There are many experts offering solutions to the issue, starting with increasing the number of licenses and increasing regulations on all transportation systems. But the CHP seems to prefer supporting a few thousand cab owners at the expense of millions of unhappy customers.
The CHP has never been good at publicity. And with party executives such as Hamzaçebi doing the job, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will not need to do much to beat the main opposition at the polls once again.