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Question: I’ve visited several Italian cities recently and I couldn’t get an Uber in any of them. I’ve heard the app is illegal here. Is that true and what should I use instead?
Does Uber exist in Italy? As with so many things in this country, the short answer is a fairly irritating one: sort of, but it depends.
Over the last decade, ride-hailing apps have become a standard way of getting around cities worldwide – or at least a handy backup transport option when travelling. So it may seem a bit strange for us to be discussing whether the most famous of these services is available in a major European country in 2022.
But you may find certain habits you’ve developed while living or travelling elsewhere just don’t translate in Italy. Taking an Uber is one of them.
Uber has been present in the country since 2013. Though it was briefly banned from operating in 2017, it’s not illegal now – though taxi drivers may try to tell you it is. It’s just very limited and, apparently, deeply unpopular.
That’s not just because Italy’s highly protected taxi industry has been vocally protesting for years against the arrival of Uber and the threat of what drivers say is unfair competition.
There’s also the fact that a lot of people in Italy just don’t seem interested in using it.
The apparent lack of enthusiasm for Uber may be surprising when you consider the lack of good or reliable public transport in many cities – not least in Rome. There’s a reason why the vast majority of the Eternal City’s residents stick to using their own cars, no matter how hard it is to find a parking spot.
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The same goes for cities up and down the country. And you may also notice that, outside of the biggest cities and away from airports, traditional taxis are very thin on the ground in Italy generally.
Whatever the reason, ride-hailing apps and taxis remain, for the most part, the preserve of tourists and totally irrelevant to the lives of many Italians, except for when travelling or in exceptional circumstances.
So what are tourists and new arrivals supposed to do if they want to use these services in Italy?
You can get an Uber – if you’re in Rome or Milan.
However, it will be the more luxurious Uber Black service; the cheaper Uber service many of us are used to using elsewhere is not allowed to operate in Italy due to concerns about unfair competition for taxi drivers. Uber Black means nicer cars but higher prices – if you don’t mind the extra cost, it’s perfectly safe and reliable to use.
A traditional taxi is likely to work out cheaper, but the number of reports of tourists being ripped off suggests it’s advisable to book and agree the fare in advance. You can use Free Now (formerly MyTaxi) to hail and pay for a traditional cab in more than 80 Italian towns and cities.
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Other apps including Carmel and Lyft also exist in Italy. But they suffer from the same problem as Uber: they aren’t widely used and therefore are unlikely to be available outside of the biggest cities.
Apps that are popular, by contrast, are mainly those focused on renting your own transport, such as Enjoy or Scooterino.
For longer journeys Italians often use rideshare app BlaBlaCar, while the Moovit app is popular among public transit users – especially in the surprising number of towns and cities where bus routes are not shown on Google Maps.
Things may be about to change in the near future, as Uber is set for major expansion after finalising a deal in May to integrate its app with Italy’s largest taxi dispatcher, IT Taxi.
But until then, if you want to get around quickly and relatively cheaply in Italy your best bet may be to do as the Romans do and get your own two wheels.
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