In Medellin, the second largest city in Colombia, cab drivers have acted with fury at the arrival of Uber, a ride-share company with 15,000 cabbies electing to go on strike in protest. Uber is a San Francisco based organisation and it has been described as ‘transportation piracy’. Taxi drivers in cities such as Barranquilla and Bogota have also hit out and are protesting Uber and other services that undermine taxi drivers.
Uber Steals Customers
Up until July, Uber’s operations in Colombia were illegal but the Ministry of Transportation overturned this decision. It was also announced that a decree to regulate ride-share services such as Uber would be established by the end of July. According to Deputy Transport Minister Nicolas Estupinan, it was recognized that the community needed a new type of service with different sets of characteristics and because of this there would be a need for new rates for these services to be implemented.
Cabbies in Colombia are furious at the decision to allow a ride-share company to operate on their turf because they feel it is illegal and are also worried about the impact it will have on their business. According to Uldaric Pena, general manager of Free Taxi, cab drivers are now just waiting on the dreaded decree that will favour Uber.
Pena said that Uber uses a different rate system to the taxi industry and it may ultimately take away as much as 40% of the industry’s customers. Uber uses a mobile app which connects users to drivers for ride-sharing services and hire.
All a customer needs to do is send a text to request a ride and pay via their credit card to the Uber app. In Colombia, Uber’s units will cost $1.50 apiece and $3 will be the minimum fare. There will also be ‘flat rates’ such as a ride to Bogota airport which will cost $20.
Taxi Driver Solidarity
According to Andres Montoya, a cab driver in Medellin, drivers are united against special vehicles that provide individual transport through the new Uber app. Another driver said he didn’t like what was happening with Medellin’s taxi system and described it as ‘piracy’ before claiming the protest was justified.
Montoya continued by saying many drivers feel duty bound to join the protest to protect their interests. He doesn’t think it is fair if some drivers get work while others don’t. Taxi drivers are also seizing the moment to complain about other issues with taxi culture in Colombia. For example, the ‘peajito’, a toll station in cities such as Bogota and Medellin, has angered drivers because it costs them $1 each time they drive through. This adds up to a significant cost over the course of the week since they get charged each time they drive to and from the airport.
Protestors are also angry at what they call ‘transportation piracy’ which involves unidentified cars driving normal bus and taxi routes while offering a much lower fare than official modes of transportation. These illegal operations are dotted throughout Colombia’s major cities. Numerous cab drivers spoke to national news publications claiming the strike was at an end for now while conversations between taxi organisation bosses and the Ministry for Transportation are ongoing.
Although drivers in the city of Cali will not join any protests this time around, cabbies in Barranquilla and Bogota have followed Medellin’s lead. Javier Monroy Velandia, the president of the Federation of Taxis in Bogota, stated that a city-wide taxi strike had been initiated. Cabs in different parts of the city tried to block major roads but anti-riot police arrived and caused the protesters to disperse.
According to Monroy, cab drivers were protesting about piracy and the need for an increased rate to cover the costs of a new administrative decree which asks vehicle owners to pay social security to drivers. He said these were issues every bit as important as Uber which was only one reason for the strike. In Barranquilla, drivers were protesting the recent assessment of cab rates by the city’s mayor which were made without precise figures on the number of taxis currently in operation in the city.