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Uber pulls out of three German cities

Blaming regulators, the company retreats to Berlin and Munich

Pablo Blazquez Dominguez/Getty Images

Three days ago, Uber gleefully announced a partnership with the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius to launch a ridesharing pilot in the city of 536,000 people. The company frequently touts these types of agreements to illustrate its growing acceptance by regulators and city governments. Well, you know what they say: two Uber trips forward, one Uber trip back.

On Friday, blaming complex regulations, the company announced it had pulled out of three German cities: Hamburg (population 1.7 million); Frankfurt (687,000); and Düsseldorf (593,000). The news came almost nine months after a judge in Frankfurt ruled that Uber drivers were required to obtain the same licenses required of normal taxi drivers.

"We know this will be disappointing for riders and our partner drivers in those three cities."The ruling overturned a prior decision that legalized Uber in Germany. Since then, Uber has restricted its services to drivers with the appropriate permits, but has run into a supply shortage, Reuters said. This came after Uber tried to ensure drivers used its platform by promising to pay for the government fees associated with the licenses.

The company's executives said they would pay the €100 to €200 for the license, as well as the €150 to €200 fee for a permit from the country's Chamber of Commerce. But apparently the scheme didn't work, given Friday's news. The company now only will operate in Berlin and Munich.

Uber says the retreat is hopefully only temporary. "Plenty of people in Germany want to press a button on their phone and get a safe, affordable ride with Uber," said Christian Freese, general manager for Uber in Germany, in a statement. "Yet we've found the requirements, even for licensed services, to be very complex. Uber is increasingly popular in Munich and Berlin so we have decided to focus our efforts there and suspend our operations in Frankfurt, Düsseldorf and Hamburg. We know this will be disappointing for riders and our partner drivers in those three cities, so we are looking at how we can support them. Uber remains committed to expanding its services in Germany, and will therefore continue its engagement and dialogue with politicians and regulators."

Germany is the latest European country to turn its nose up at Uber's hard-charging ways. In France, two Uber executives were arrested after a nationwide strike by that country's taxi drivers. A judge in Milan ordered the discontinuation of Uber in Italy, calling the service "unfair competition." And the company suspended its service in Spain after a judge ruled that Uber didn't comply with the country's laws.