Iran

Iranian cabbies accuse web-based rivals of being US spies

Angri taxi drivers with banners saying “Yes to technology, no to fraud” chanted, “American Snapp must be destroyed”.
Angri taxi drivers with banners saying “Yes to technology, no to fraud” chanted, “American Snapp must be destroyed”.

Angry at competition from web-based car services, taxi drivers in Iran have accused their competitors of being American spies. But their allegations – apparently aimed at conservative MPs, who often criticise the United States themselves – didn't get the reaction they hoped for. 

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Angry at competition from web-based car services, taxi drivers in Iran have accused their competitors of being American spies. But their allegations – apparently aimed at conservative MPs, who often criticise the United States themselves – didn't get the reaction they hoped for from Iranian citizens.

Members of Tehran’s taxi union gathered on February 20 in front of the Iranian parliament to demand a ban on online services that they say are destroying their livelihood.

Iranian startups like Snapp and Tap30 have been attracting users by providing services similar to US-based Uber. Snapp, launched in 2014, claims to have 30,000 drivers on its roster and serve one million clients in Tehran and its suburbs. (The company’s claims could not be independently verified). Like Uber, the company’s app puts passengers in touch with drivers, and allows them to rank the driver from one to five stars.

The company’s app puts passengers in touch with drivers, and allows them to rank the driver from one to five stars.

Tehran’s taxi drivers have told local media the online services are siphoning business away from them, leaving them on the brink of bankruptcy. They say former colleagues who have signed up with Snapp and Tap30 earn more money than them. At the February 20 demonstration, though, they had another allegation. With banners saying “Yes to technology, no to fraud,” they chanted, “American Snapp must be destroyed” and “Spy applications must be destroyed.” (Snapp is not known to have any American investors, although South African wireless giant MTN has invested 20 million euros in the venture).

Reaction online was scathing, with Internet users defending the apps and making fun of the cabbies’ claims.

Protesters chanting “American Snapp must be destroyed” and “Spy applications must be destroyed.”

“Taxis take 25,000 Tomans [7 euros] but the same destination costs 10,000 Tomans [2.85 euros] with Tip30. Protest all you like; it is your fault.”

“To get the online services banned, the taxi drivers call them a Zionist American plot. It’s obvious what they’re trying to do.” Tweet posted by Mohammad Ali Abtahi, former vice-president of Iran.

“They are clever: they tell passengers Snapp belongs to the Revolutionary Guard, then in front of the parliament they say it’s American.”

The drivers’ chants appeared to be an effort to win support from the government, and from conservative MPs in the Parliament building behind them. But there were no public messages of support from MPs (though the drivers did say they’d been invited to meet some of them for discussion). The country’s information and technology minister, Mahmoud Vaezi, has in the past supported apps like Snapp and Tap30, saying on January 7, “Old-fashioned businesses cannot stop technology. We can’t live like we did 20 years ago.”

 

The conservative Fars News Agency reported that a ministerial meeting held on February 22 concluded that there was no legal reason to halt Snapp and Tap30’s activity.

 

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