Uberexcited

Much excitement in the easily excitable world of the Romanian blogosphere this weekend at the news that Uber – an alternative to taxis which makes use of a mobile phone application to calculate the price of a trip – is set to open up shop in Bucharest. For the easily excitable digital-first crowd Uber ticks two very important boxes: it’s American and it’s online-only. Double whammy.

The excitement began on Friday when a local blogger who apparently calls himself Zoso (yes, really) reported that Uber was advertising for both a Romanian country and development manager.

That would certainly seem to suggest that Uber is preparing its entry into the Romanian market.

Now, for any of you unaware of Uber or how it works, this primer is well worth reading. In brief, Uber allows car owners to offer spare capacity in their vehicles to paying customers via a mobile application. The price is agreed before the journey commences, according to the distance to be travelled. No cash changes hands: each account holder pays via a registered debit or credit card. Uber takes a 20 per cent cut of every fare.

Recently valued at $18 billion, Uber has been phenomenonally successful in many towns and cities in the United States, as well as ruffling a few feathers in Europe. Uber does best in those cities where it disrupts the long-standing, expensive monopolies of licensed taxi drivers. And here’s the problem for Uber in Bucharest: the city already has what are amongst the cheapest taxis in the developed world (do your own gags). Taxis in Bucharest are also ubiquitous (usually: less so in the rain) and – for a good couple of years now – you have been able to order one using a highly efficient mobile app, Star Taxi.

We therefore fail to see how Uber fits in, unless there is a market for people who actually want to pay more for a taxi in order to travel in a little more comfort than a Dacia Logan offers (the vast majority of Bucharest’s taxi being Logans). (In which case, there is already Black Cab).

We have been told that Uber will solve one of the biggest gripes people currently have with Bucharest’s taxi drivers: their refusal to travel short distances. We doubt that will be the case. Given that Uber requires users to state both pick-up point and destination when ordering a car, Uber drivers are in fact less likely to answer a request for a car. And Ubers cannot be hailed in the street. The second argument, that they will bring an end to high-prices at New Year and such like is also null: Uber practices surge pricing at all busy times.

By the way, if you do ever want to take a taxi a short distance make it clear to the driver as you get in that will pay 10 lei even though the fair might only be four or five lei. (Indeed, as a general rule, never pay less than 10 lei: to do so is a little bit rusinica, as they say in these parts).

Anyway, we wish Uber well, and do at least hope that they will get the chance to fail: some cities (with powerful taxi lobbies, notably London and Berlin) have tried (and in the case of Berlin succeeded) to have Uber outlawed.

Bucharest’s taxi drivers will almost certainly try and do the same. We would advise them to simply keep their prices down: Uber will not be able to compete with taxis charging 1.39 lei per kilometre.

Romanian presidential candidates in disappearance mystery

Yet another campaign poster blocking the pavement.

Yet another campaign poster blocking the pavement.

We commented earlier in the week on the fact that campaign advertising in Bucharest ahead of Romania’s presidential election on November 2nd was being dominated by the two main candidates: prime minister Victor Ponta of the PSD and mayor of Sibiu Klaus Iohannis of the PNL.

Dominated, it would appear, was not string enough a word. For since then, we have been keeping a sharp eye out for any kind of campaign material – be it a billboard, a flyer, a tent – featuring any of the other 12 candidates.

As things stand, on Friday afternoon, we have to admit defeat: we have seen nothing, not a single sign that there are any other candidates running in this election. It’s all a bit bizarre.

Or is it…

After all, there are only two candidates with any real chance of winning – Ponta and Iohannis – so it is perhaps not all that surprising that the other candidates are not even trying. Yet that explanation begs another question, however: Why on earth are they bothering to run at all? Why bother to collect the 200,000 signatures (or at least pretend to collect 200,000 signatures)?

Meantime, any of you who thought the Ponta camp couldn’t go any lower than the Victor the Healer photo of last weekend were wrong.

This week, Ponta has used his Facebook page to wish a happy birthday to Gica Popescu, once a very good footballer but these days a convicted fraudster serving a long prison sentence. Ponta’s choice of words ‘he did many great things for his country and we hope he gets over this difficult period’ does little to suggest he would take a tough line on corruption if he were to be elected president.

Far worse, however, were the atrocious statements made on Wednesday by Ponta’s spokeswoman, Gabriela Vranceanu-Firea, who declared that Klaus Iohannis was unfit for the office of president because he didn’t have any children and was therefore ‘not a complete person.’ Firea, a former newsreader on – you guessed it – convicted fraudster Dan Voiculescu’s Antena channels, is currently a PSD senator. The best response to her remarks we have so far read (there have been a few) is this from Catalin Tolontan (Romanian).

Anyway, we end this post with a question:

If you are planning on voting for Victor Ponta, can you please explain why?

Do we not like this

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Yep, it’s a tent which doubles as an advertising hoarding which takes up three-quarters of the pavement.

It shows just what the people who expect you to vote for them actually think of ordinary folk: not a lot.

Fantastic.

PS Although this particular tent is of course prime minister Victor Ponta’s, the campaign team of the other main candidate Klaus Iohannis is equally guilty of making public space its own.

Runners & Riders

The starting line up for Romania’s presidential election – which takes place in November – was last week officially confirmed, and the campaign is now well under way. There is an impressive total of 14 declared candidates, although that does not represent a record: the highest number of candidates was the whopping 16 who ran in 1996.

Anyway, this year’s runners and riders are as follows:

Victor Ponta (PSD)
Klaus Iohannis (PNL/PDL)
Elena Udrea (PMP)
Calin Popescu Tariceanu (Independent)
Monica Macovei (Independent)
William Branza (Ecologist Party)
Teodor Melescanu (Independent)
Dan Diaconescu (PPDD)
Kelemen Hunor (UDMR)
Zsolt Szilágyi (Hungarian People’s Party)
Corneliu Vadim Tudor (PRM)
Gheorghe Funar (Independent)
Mirel Mircea Amariței (Prodemo Party)
Constantin Rotaru (Socialist Alliance Party)

In fact, just two candidates matter: Victor Ponta and Klaus Iohannis. It would be a monumental shock if either of them did not end up in the second round run off on November 16th. As such, it is their advertising which dominates the streets of Bucharest (with Ponta clearly having more money to spend: his infinitely punchable face is ubiquitous) and – we imagine – the rest of the country. The other twelve candidates are so far all but invisible. If we have any readers in the provinces perhaps they can confirm if any of the other candidates have a higher profile outside of the capital.

Ponta by the way sunk to new depths on Saturday when he published this carefully-posed photo on his Facebook page, in which he takes the role of some kind of saint, or even Jesus Christ himself:

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Using the disabled as campaign-props is despicable, but we expect such behaviour from Ponta. His much-heralded ‘American advisors’ should know better, however.

Iohannis by contrast has been very quiet, which is probably wise: he does not need to do much to win this election beyond simply sitting at home and allowing Ponta to lose it.

Monica Macovei is a puzzling candidate, primarily because she was until just recently a member of the PDL, which officially backs Iohannis. Popular with intellectuals and the well-educated (particularly on the right) she is an able woman whose reforms as Justice Minister from 2004-2007 provided the basis for the real progress Romania has made in that area over the past decade. Perhaps the most capable and blemish-free of all 14 candidates, Macovei has the most coherent programme and – we think – the only real option for anyone wanting things to change. At least a tiny bit. As such, she has no chance whatsoever.

Light relief in this election comes from what we can safely term as the no-hopers, led by our old muse Elena Udrea. The highlight of her campaign so far has been wearing a builder’s helmet and posing for this magnificent poster, which quite frankly leaves us speechless:

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Udrea’s campaign website, romaniafrumoasa.ro, is a gem. In the My Projects section she appears to take credit for just about anything that has been done in Romania over the past decade, from the construction of the Arena Nationala to repairing more than 6500 km of roads. We assume that she got all of this done during her spell as Minister of Regional Development (which lasted just over two years, from December 2009 to February 2012).

Of the other no-hopers, a couple of names are rather interesting, not least that of Gheorghe Funar, a particularly nasty nationalist who was once known as the mad mayor of Cluj and was for many years a member of the Romanian Nationalist Party (PRM) led by Corneliu Vadim Tudor.

Vadim is himself having yet another run at the presidency despite being a spent force in Romanian politics. In his pomp of course Vadim made the second round (in 2000) but these days he is far less capable of pulling off such a shock. Although we saw him on television last week claiming to have ‘at least 15 per cent’ of the vote, he will be lucky to poll above two per cent.

One of the reasons Vadim – and Funar – have become non-entities is because the ultra-nationalist territory which was once theirs alone is now firmly occupied by Victor Ponta and his PSD, nominally a left-wing party but in fact very much a far-right one. Believe us: we know what a left-wing party looks like, and it is not the PSD. Indeed, as we have said many times before, to label Ponta or the PSD as being left-wing (and, implicitly, socialist) is lazy, naive and plain wrong. Even the usually excellent Reuters does it. It is also worth noting that the main theme of Ponta’s campaign is Marea Unire (Great Union), which (despite Ponta’s protestations to the contrary) implies the union of Romania with Moldova (Marea Unire was the name given to the unification of Transylvania with Wallachia and Moldova in 1918, the anniversary of which – December 1st – is Romania’s National Day). Consider the nationalism card well and truly played.

(By the way, anyone hoping Constantin Rotaru and his Socialist Alliance Party might lead a new revolution should probably look away now: at the General Election in 2012 it took less than 5000 votes. It makes you wonder how he managed to get the required 200,000 signatures needed to validate a candidacy – something we could ask of all but three or four of the candidates, in fact).

William Branza is worth a paragraph, not least because his name – for extra comedic effect – means Willy Cheese in English. Branza is also interesting for the fact that he is running on behalf of the Romanian Ecologist Party: the third party Branza has represented. He was first elected to parliament as an MP for Vadim Tudor’s nationalist PRM before joining – and then leaving – the PDL. Such traseism – as it is called in these parts – is not unusual (many MPs have been members of even more parties) and is indicative of the fact that there is no such thing as a Romanian political compass: merely a bunch of crooks, shysters and chancers.

Given such a choice, we would usually be telling the people in our house who actually have the right to vote to stay at home. This year, however, is different: Ponta has to be stopped, so we expect to vote Macovei in round one, Iohannis in round two. If Ponta wins, we’ll be battening down the hatches and plotting his overthrow.

For though they offer us concessions, change will not come from above.

Bucharest’s Sector 3 finds yet another way to waste our money

With the changing of Sector 3’s kerbstones now having spread as far as Bulevardul Unirii, it is only a matter of time until every major street in the sector can boast these lovely peach coloured kerbstones which – as we pointed out last week – have become very much a symbol of Bucharest and a source of pride for the city’s population.

This was the scene on Bulevardul Unirii this morning:

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And there’s more.

The good news for those of us lucky enough to live in the People’s Republic of Robert Negoita’s Sector 3 is that the changes do not stop with the kerbstones. Oh no. This morning, a team of workers turned up on right on our street in order to begin another amazingly important, costly, yet no doubt highly necessary task: replacing the fences which surround our blocks.

That’s right, the green fences which five or six years ago went up around every block in Sector 3 (at a time when another Negoita, Liviu, was mayor) have clearly been deemed by the current regime as far too old and will therefore have to be replaced.

This is how the old fences, now considered past it, looked:

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Note how almost the whole fence is covered with greenery; the fences in front of most blocks are like this, as most blocks have at least one keen gardener who has taken care of this kind of thing over the years (those plants do not grow overnight), making sure that a just a tiny bit of vegetation is allowed to blossom in an otherwise concrete landscape. That will all be lost now, replaced with these magnificent new fences:

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Long live our glorious mayor.