Uber and Bla Bla Car Battle Russian Taxis

Just the mention of Uber brings out detractors who quickly point out how much money the service continues to lose. However, given the big-name investors and the fact that Uber opens a new city every five days, one simply cannot discount this company that loves to disrupt the status quo.

In the spring Uber introduced a flat rate of 700 rubles (currently $10.96) for travel from any of the three major Moscow airports to the centre of the city. That is easily a third of what most official Taxi drivers charge.

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Facing stiff competition from Yandex (Russia’s “Google”) Taxi service, Uber came close to being driven out of Russia earlier this year. Uber steered clear of the regulatory off-ramp by agreeing to use officially registered taxi drivers and to share travel data with transportation authorities.

The Israeli-based Get.taxi (Gett.ru) is another popular app that allows Russian riders to arrange ride sharing with drivers.

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Get.Taxi app

Another ride sharing company that is growing rapidly is the Paris based Bla Bla Car, in which riders not only pay for the ride, but as it is primarily a city to city or region to region service, riders must promise to talk with the driver to help them stay awake on the longer distances. Thus, the “Bla Bla” in the name.

When logging in to BlaBlaCar.ru, riders can see who is traveling to the same city, and then select the driver based on the price and times of travel. For identity purposes a photo of the driver is shown.

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As Russian cities have banned the practice of “gypsy taxis” over the years in which ordinary drivers would stop on city streets and haggle with hitch-hikes for the fee, these transportation alternatives have begun to gain footholds in Russian cities.

So far, officials have done little to shield local taxi companies from competition, proving yet again the power of the Internet to disrupt and innovate.

 

 

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Russian Duma Elections 2016

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This building, home to Russia’s lower house of parliament, is known as the Duma. The term is tied to the idea of thinking, and those who thought that the United Russia party would increase their hold on power were thinking correctly.

Reaction from Russian president Vladimir Putin was predictable as he greeted news of his party’s continued control with the expression “pretty good.” Mr. Putin arrived at 12:50 pm to cast his ballot at polling station No. 2151, the Russian Academy of Sciences.

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United Russia increased its majority from 238 to over 300. There are a total of 450 seats, all were up for reelection, and the only “minority” parties to hold seats were those loyal to the Kremlin.

Two highly visible Kremlin opponents lost their bids: Current deputy Dmitry Gudkov, considered to be only remaining opposition liberal, was defeated. Well-known opposition candidate Maria Baronova lost her bid for a seat.

The chart below shows the new alignment of the 450 seats:

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United Russia: 343

Communist Party: 42

Liberal Democrats: 39

A Just Russia: 23

The Rodina (Homeland) party and the Civic Platform party each won a single seat. The final seat went to an Independent. Roughly half the seats will be appointed from party lists, the others from single-mandate voting.

Unsurprisingly, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors pointed to plenty of polling violations and ballot-stuffing which are widely considered to be standard fare in Russian elections.

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Russians in general were unimpressed, with less than half of registered voters bothering to cast a ballot. It was the lowest turnout of any election since the fall of the Soviet Union with fewer than 40% showing up. The two cities with the highest number of opposition voters were quiet. The Moscow turnout was about 30% and just under 20% for Saint Petersburg.

For our Russian language readers we recommend the Medusa media analysis of the election at this link.

Putin’s Driver Killed in Car Crash

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There must have been a full moon over Moscow on 05 September because the next morning brought out the usual band of strange reports with the crash on Kutuzovsky Avenue which killed one of Vladimir Putin’s drivers.

It wasn’t long before press members were being deluged by the same cadre of conspiracy theory spinners with their questions that seem at times to be extreme manifestations of drug overdose, or perhaps mental retardation.  Sadly, most of these clowns have access to internet radio shows, blogs, and YouTube channels and love to masquerade as underground journalists.

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Some wanted to know if it was an attempt by the opposition to assassinate the president. Others hatched the idea that the car was being driven as a “decoy” to confuse opposition members in the Kremlin’s inner circle from knowing where Mr. Putin was at the time.

Some loudly proclaimed that it was a plot by American president Obama to kill Putin and wanted clues seeking confirmation that the CIA had been involved. Others were convinced that the Clinton campaign orchestrated the accident as payback for Russian hackers who reaped top secret info from Mrs. Clinton’s unprotected email mail servers.

Oh Lord, the display of ignorance is stunning. So, we’ll review some facts here. As usual, facts have a way of exposing empty conspiracy theories.

Fact: the Kremlin does not use decoys on busy streets. When Mr. Putin travels on city streets, all traffic is shut down and the presidential motorcade takes over the entire roadway. There are police motorcycle or patrol car escorts at the front, then several presidential cars depending on who is traveling with him, at least two or more SUVs with highly trained members of the Presidential Protective Service, and normal protocol has two ambulances following at the rear.

Fact: presidential motorcades are very unpopular in a city with such massive traffic problems, and therefore Mr. Putin’s most common form of transportation between the presidential residence at Novo-Ogaryovo (outside Moscow) and on the rare days when he comes into Moscow to the Kremlin, is a special squad of helicopters which land on the helipad inside the Kremlin territory.

Even in areas away from the centre of Moscow, as seen below, Mr. Putin prefers to travel by helicopter for short distance events.


Theory: Putin hides his schedule because he is afraid of those around him.

Fact: while there have been such incidents, those are very rare. There are times when his schedule is veiled, but not usually. On Sept 6 he was in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) to lay flowers at the grave of recently deceased Uzbek president Islam Karimov. He also met with King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain at the Kremlin, and conducted a meeting in the Kremlin’s St Catherine Hall with leaders of his United Russia party regarding the upcoming parliamentary elections.

In the days before, he had attended the G20 summit in China. His schedule was widely known and there would have been no need to send out a car as a “decoy” that traveled in normal lanes with a single occupant in daytime traffic. Had someone planned a “hit” as the theory goes, they would have known in advance to come to the Kremlin, not send a car to hit a lone driver traveling in a standard lane on a busy avenue.

Fact: such a “hit” would have to be highly coordinated with informants and spotters assisting the driver of a hit car. But again, Mr. Putin does not travel on busy streets in a car without multiple advance and rear escorts.

For what it is worth, the car involved in the crash  is registered to the Federation Council, the upper house (Senate) of parliament. It was not registered to the presidential administration of which there are hundreds, over 700 in number, of official cars. It was not traveling in the centre lane that is reserved for government officials, nor was the car carrying the required flashing blue light had it been on official business.

The CCTV video accounts of the accident show that things happened so fast that it is difficult to tell many of the accident details leading up to the crash. But, attempts to label it as a CIA attempt or some other plot to take out the Russian president are just stunningly ignorant.