Amsterdam wants to change the taxi world so that drivers earn more themselves. Local initiatives must provide a counterbalance to international giants, according to some councilors.

The Municipal Executive and councilor Sofyan Mbarki (PVDA) are looking at restructuring the Amsterdam taxi sector, inspired by the model of taxi cooperatives as applied in New York. This plan is proposed as a response to the challenges faced by today's platform economy, where the balance between employee interests and the profits of large companies seems out of balance. The church goes investing in a cooperative in which employees can set up their own taxi service.

The Amsterdam council, led by Alderman for Economic Affairs, has announced ambitious plans to stimulate the local economy with a budget of 23 million euros. Amsterdam taxi drivers, just like their New York colleagues, would have the opportunity to become directors and shareholders in their own cooperative. However, this idea has no resonance or understanding among some within the local community, such as Walter Ploos van Amstel, which highlights the existence of the current cooperative, TCA, and questions the usefulness and financing of a new, comparable structure. 

“It is a surprising news. The TaxiCentrale Amsterdams (TCA) is the largest Amsterdam taxi cooperative with 800+ members, an internal board with active taxi drivers, who have overcome the corona years with great dedication. More than 90% of taxi revenues are generated by the drivers themselves. So what else is needed? Why would the council want to intervene in the taxi market by subsidizing a competitor of the existing local taxi cooperatives? It is not mentioned anywhere in the taxi policy,” says Walther Ploos van Amstel.

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Photo: Tom Feenstra - Councilor Sofyan Mbarki

"If you pay thirty euros for an Uber ride, ten euros of that goes to Saudi Arabia, Morgan Stanley and other Uber shareholders. Uber withdraws those ten euros from the city. That is a third of the taxi driver's turnover, who does the work, finances the car and takes care of the papers, insurance, maintenance, courses and the sometimes difficult customers."

Beyond the taxi sector, the council wants to promote cooperative enterprises across a wide range of sectors. PvdA, GroenLinks and D66 want to attract more power to local entrepreneurs. Teun Gautier, affiliated with Coop opines, sees the taxi initiative as a starting point for a broader movement towards cooperative ownership in various areas, including delivery services and housing.

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Gautier, once director of the Groene Amsterdammer, emphasizes the benefits of cooperatives, such as greater control and value retention within the local community, in contrast to the current trend of income flowing to foreign investors. He defends the principle that cooperatives operate for the benefit of their members and not primarily for profit, a principle that is also applied to social institutions such as football clubs.

The push for cooperatives is not just a financial issue but also one of data ownership and privacy, a growing concern among consumers. In line with this vision, MeentCoop wants to regain control over data and send a strong signal to the platform economy, which they believe contributes too little to the local economy.

The question of whether the municipality should become involved in such economic initiatives remains a point of discussion in the public debate.

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The push for cooperatives is not just a financial issue but also one of data ownership and privacy, a growing concern among consumers.

No, Amsterdam itself will not become a venture capitalist that will enter the taxi market. The discussion about government involvement in the creation of cooperatives with taxpayers' money is a complex and sometimes controversial issue. Critics believe that the government should not interfere in market sectors where cooperative structures already exist, such as the Taxicentrale Amsterdam (TCA). They argue that using taxpayer money to create a competitor for existing cooperatives is not only unnecessary but can also create unfair competition.

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The government is often seen as a regulatory and facilitating body that must ensure a level playing field for companies and not as a market participant. Setting up a cooperative with public funds can raise questions about the role of the government and the fairness of its interventions in the free market. Some experts argue that such actions could distort competition and affect market forces, putting existing companies that operate without subsidies at a disadvantage.

In addition, establishing a government-backed cooperative can lead to a misallocation of resources, as these resources can also be used for other pressing urban needs, such as education or infrastructure. According to some, taxpayer money could be better used to improve the general business climate by, for example, reducing regulations, providing loans or guarantees to start-ups, or improving the city's digital infrastructure.

Finally, the emphasis on using taxpayer dollars for such initiatives may also shift perceptions of government responsibility. It can lead to a situation where the government is seen as having to solve problems that may be better addressed by the private sector, which can lead to greater dependence on government intervention and less entrepreneurial initiative.

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