Uber hires lobbyist for planned Oslo launch
Uber, the taxi app which last week triggered protests across Europe, has hired Norway's top lobby firm to help launch its service in Oslo, according to an email leaked last week to the country's Dagbladet newspaper.
The email, sent in May to the Reynir Johannesson, special advisor to Norway's Transport Minister Ketil Solvik-Olsen, requested an "informal meeting" between the minister and Uber's public policy head Corey Owens at the OECD International Transport Forum in Leipzig.
"Uber has not launched in Oslo yet, but they are in a phase where they are quickly rolling out the service in cities across the world, and Oslo is a candidate," Erlend Engh Brekke, a Brussels-based director for lobby firm First House, wrote.
Thousands of taxi drivers last week mounted protests against Uber across Europe, as reported by The Local in Madrid, Berlin, Paris and Rome, angry at the way Uber's drivers duck regulations and license fees they are forced to operate under.
Johannesson rebuffed First House's request, saying the minister was too busy. But hiring First House, which is run by Per Høiby, the brother of Crown Princess Mette-Marit, will undoubtedly give Uber access to some powerful figures in Norway's government.
Atle Hagtun, head of the Norwegian Taxi Association told Dagbladet that he didn't think even First House's support would be enough to make Uber eligible to operate in Norway.
"Uber's operations would clearly be illegal if they set up here, simply because you need to have a taxi license to transport people for payment in Norway," he said.
Nonetheless, he criticised the role the lobbyist was playing. "When PR agencies make themselves available to players who want to introduce legislative changes with dramatic consequences for society, it reinforces the impression of them as commercial political actors," he said.
Bard Hoksrud, in the Ministry of Transport told Dagbladet that the government had started a review of current taxi regulations, although he would give no details on how they were likely to change.
"The Government's view is that we want to liberalize, but we are also concerned to maintain quality standards," he said.