The war between the taxi sector and the VTCs it has resulted in a proliferation of regulations that has caused unprecedented legal insecurity in the field of urban mobility. RDL 13/2018, validated by the Congress of Deputies in September and still in the phase of amendments for its transformation into a bill, adds fuel to the fire. On the one hand, it limits the rating associated with the leasing activity of vehicles with driver, so that these qualifying titles will only allow intercity passenger transport, not urban as it has been up to now. And, on the other hand, it transfers the powers to modify the operating conditions of the VTC licenses from the central government to the Autonomous Communities and, eventually, to the local entities. The urgency and abruptness permeate the actual text of the Royal Decree Law and the main cause is the tenacious pressure that is being carried out by the taxi sector.
The objective of the decree law is clear: in a hasty manner, it aims to thin the powers of the central government and, in turn, exonerate it from VTC responsibilities by converting a national problem into seventeen (or more!) Local conflicts.
As if that were not enough, the way in which the limitation of the rating has been carried out is not without controversy: the four-year transitional regime that determines the RDL is already staggering and the shadow of the million-dollar indemnities looms over the different public administrations.
In this context, without a doubt, the most sensible strategy on the part of the regional and local public administrations, supposedly recipients of new competences, is not to make hasty decisions that may involve future payments for damages and complicate, even more, a legal and judicial situation that is already very complex. It would be appropriate to analyze the consequences of RDL 13/2018, wait for its final processing as a law and be attentive to judgments and court orders, as they could greatly modify the rules of the game.
In the case of Catalonia, the rumors point to a transfer of powers of the Generalitat to the Metropolitan Area of Barcelona (AMB) through two Decrees Laws by the Catalan executive (in fact, the AMB is already preparing its second Regulation in public information until January 25 after the CNMC and ACCO challenged the first). Possibly, this would be the worst decision for several reasons:
- The excessive use of the decree law, norm with the rank of law, in recent years to avoid the challenges of the competition authorities is a despicable strategy that would be reproduced again on this occasion betraying an unclear intentionality on the part of the legislator.
- The approval of a Decree Law where powers are delegated that are not yet fully assumed seems irrational. Recall that RDL 13/2018 is validated, but it is still in the phase of amendments.
- Politically, the AMB has publicly postulated against the activity of the VTC and, with its regulation, could unjustly and emphatically eradicate its activity without respecting the compensation period.
- If the Generalitat or the AMB do not respect the term of four years determined in RDL 13/2018, it risks taking out compensation that could be 1,000 million euros (3,800 million throughout the national territory), according to a study by the E & Y consultant.
Undoubtedly, the situation is complex and, therefore, we need courage and common sense from our politicians. The report of the Interdepartmental Commission for the Collaborative Economy approved by the Government of the Generalitat de Catalunya more than a year ago pointed out some interesting proposals to seek a first taxi-VTC approach (shared taxi, tariff flexibility, shared mobility pilot projects, help lines for the modernization and digitalization of the service of taxi). And the ACCO has also manifested itself on more than one occasion pointing out solutions to the conflict, enforcing the principles of Better Regulation of European regulations that invite not to prohibit, but to establish a balanced playing field in which all operators can carry out their activity on equal terms.
But also the ACCO has lost patience and, in its latest statements Regarding the matter, it considers that it would be totally discriminatory and restrictive for the future Catalan regulation to impose on the VTC, as it is supposedly intended, the obligation that the services are pre-contracted at least six hours in advance.
Therefore, it is necessary to proceed with caution and be particularly careful with partisan decisions taken under great pressure. If this first phase could be overcome, the barrier of short-termism could be broken and a coherent, modern and respectful regulation could be devised with the sector as a whole and with the principles of good regulation. The logic invites to regulate both the taxi and the VTC under a single regulation, as these are practically identical services. In countries such as Portugal and the Netherlands, the taxi service and the VTC have coexisted peacefully for more than a year, and this is due to good regulation.
Uber and other technological platforms operate in most of the large European cities where their activity is being regulated more or less accurately. Does Barcelona have to be the first city where its activity is definitively prohibited? The city that is emerging as a new core of technology companies? The city of the Mobile World Congress?
The public administrations must stop passing the hot potato from one to the other. The Generalitat should take advantage of this opportunity and establish a stable regulatory framework for VTC and taxi in Catalonia, that is, to face the challenge and regulate the sector as a whole. Now it seems complex, but in less than a decade the arrival of the autonomous car is expected, will we also veto it? Technological advances should not be the core of the problem, but part of the solution: the objective, in short, should be a greener, competitive, sustainable, innovative, modern urban mobility adapted to the changing needs of the citizen.
Anna Merino She is a doctor in economics and an expert consultant in competition, regulation and digital economy.