Spanish taxi drivers take to streets in Uber protest

Strike causes widespread disruption in Madrid and Barcelona

Taxi drivers protest in Barcelona at what they claim is a failure by authorities to regulate the activities of digital ride-sharing companies. Photograph: EPA

Taxi drivers protest in Barcelona at what they claim is a failure by authorities to regulate the activities of digital ride-sharing companies. Photograph: EPA

 

A taxi drivers’ strike has caused major disruption in Madrid and Barcelona and cast doubt on the efforts of ride-sharing firms such as Uber to consolidate their business in Spain.

Taxi drivers in Barcelona went on strike on Friday, in protest at what they claimed was a failure by authorities to regulate the activities of digital ride-sharing companies. On Monday, Madrid taxi drivers joined the action, calling for a similar clampdown.

With Madrid’s annual international tourism fair beginning on Wednesday, the protest caused substantial logistical problems. Hundreds of taxi drivers parked their cars outside the conference centre in northern Madrid where the event was taking place, hampering the arrival of participants and forcing King Felipe to enter through a side door.

There were some clashes as police attempted to clear the ring road around Madrid, which had been blocked by taxi drivers.

Existing Spanish legislation allows only one licence to be issued for so-called private driven vehicles (VTCs), such as those operated by Uber and its competitor Cabify, for every 30 taxis in circulation. The Spanish government has delegated the implementation of this rule to regional administrations.

However, taxi associations claim the ratio is not respected and that many more VTCs are in circulation. They also complain that the ride-sharing vehicles skirt the law in other ways, for example by fishing for customers in the street without being formally hailed.

‘Unsustainable situation’

“This country is facing an unsustainable situation, particularly so in Madrid due to the excess of VTC licences being used by Uber and Cabify,” taxi federation spokesman José Miguel Fúnez told The Irish Times. “We won’t give way on this.”

In an effort to defuse the situation in Barcelona, the Catalan regional government has proposed new regulations, which include ensuring customers have to request the services of ride-sharing firms at least an hour before travelling. Taxi drivers in Barcelona were considering whether to accept the offer on Wednesday. Mr Fúnez said Madrid drivers would accept a similar offer if it was available for them.

However, Uber and Cabify, which operates in Spain, Portugal and Latin America, have criticised the Catalan government’s proposal. They have suggested that they would feel forced to withdraw their business from Barcelona if it was implemented, putting 3,500 drivers out of work.

“If [the plan] we have seen so far is approved, that would be tantamount to expelling our company from that territory,” said Cabify chief executive Juan de Antonio.