It comes after nationwide protests by taxi drivers against government plans that would make it easier for services such as Uber to operate in the country.
Uber, which is already available in Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf, operates by letting users book and pay for a ride via a smartphone app. It is typically cheaper than traditional taxi services.
The US firm said that last year, mobile phone users in Cologne tried to order a ride via the app 300,000 times. During the recent Carnival season, 100,000 people tried to use Uber. That signalled to the company that the service was in demand.
Uber launched in the western German city on Thursday. Christoph Weigler, head of Uber Germany, said there was huge business potential in Cologne.
Wiegel said “Uber offers all Cologne residents as well as tourists and business people visiting the cathedral city another attractive option” when they are choosing between public transport, taxi and other car sharing offers, reported local news site Koeln.de.
“We want to convince even more people to do without their own car more often,” he added.
Those looking for an Uber ride enter the desired destination via the UberX app. Before the booking, the user is shown the fare that the route will cost, regardless of travel time or traffic jams.
In addition, the customer sees the driver's profile with photo, licence plate and service evaluation before the journey begins. At the end of the journey, payment is made by card or Paypal. That's in contrast to traditional taxi services where you hand cash or a card over to the driver.
Uber has operated in Germany since 2014 but there has been resistance to the company's expansion.
Drivers working for Uber must meet strict requirements and they need a special permit to operate.
The government has proposed relaxing those restrictions. It would mean car-services such as Uber and Mola, which have been classified as chauffeured rental car services, would no longer have the obligation to return to their original starting point where they picked up a customer.
However, the taxi industry has urged authorities to shelve the reforms, saying it would decimate the livelihoods of taxi drivers.
A taxi driver at a protest on Wednesday with 'Uber victim' on the cab. Photo: DPA
The German Taxi and Rental Car Association (BZP) fears that these services would be free to decide when and where to make lucrative trips – such as to the airport, where they could also wait for new clients. In contrast, taxis have a legal duty to respond to the call of all clients – they must therefore cover all needs around the clock, whether profitable or not.
On Wednesday, the BZP called on drivers in around 30 cities to protest plans to liberalize the taxi market.
The largest action took place in Berlin where around 5,000 taxis drove at walking speed from three starting points – Tegel Airport, Olympisches Dorf and Ostbahnhof – to the Brandenburg Gate, reported the Berliner Morgenpost.
After the Uber launch in Cologne, taxi representatives underpinned their criticism. Dennis Klusmeier, vice chairman of the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) Taxi Association, appealed to authorities to check compliance with existing regulations.
In Düsseldorf, where Uber has been offering its services since autumn 2018, the taxi market has suffered losses, according to Klusmeier.
Weigler, however, wants to continue the dialogue in order to smooth over the dispute.
“Prejudices can be overcome through conversations,” he said. The manager said he is confident that many taxi drivers will also be partners with Uber in Cologne.
Uber has run into court difficulties in Germany in recent years. In March 2015 the Frankfurt regional court imposed an injunction on Uber and its ride-sharing service UberPop throughout Germany.
The ruling means Uber can be fined for violation of local transport laws if it uses drivers who are not licensed by the state in order to cut costs.