May 16, 2021

The battle of taxis and VTCs is global: they have legislated in other parts of the world to bring peace | Economy

The battle of taxis and VTCs is global: they have legislated in other parts of the world to bring peace | Economy


The taxi drivers have been striking for 10 days in Madrid. They want an agreement similar to the one that the taxi drivers of Barcelona have reached with the Generalitat to put limitations on the activity of the Concerted transport vehicles (VTC). However, in Madrid, the regional government does not give in to requests from the sector. The pressure is on the autonomous communities, because a decree law of the Government of Pedro Sanchez approved last September transferred the powers. The Community of Madrid accuses the central government of passing the "hot potato".

How has Catalonia regulated? On Tuesday, the Generalitat formally approved a decree that includes a mandatory minimum time of 15 minutes in advance to pre-contract the services of the VTC, which can be extended to one hour if the Madrid City Council so wishes, something that according to Uber and Cabify, will mean the end of your business in Barcelona.

The battle in Spain will continue. Because each of the 17 communities may propose different regulations, which may also modulate the municipalities. While the parties launch cross-allegations and the administrations fail to find a point of agreement, the conflict transcends national borders. This is what other countries and cities (those that have jurisdiction over transport regulations) have done to try to achieve a peaceful competition between taxis and new transport platforms.

Street of London.
Street of London. GETTY

London: more Uber than taxis

Rafa de Miguel, London

The legendary black cabs that roam the streets of London drag their battle against Uber for years. Y They have taken their protests to the main nerve centers of the capital From United Kingdom. At the beginning of last year, hundreds of vehicles were concentrated on the London Bridge and paralyzed traffic for hours. Taxi drivers accuse their rival of employing drivers in exchange for low wages, and point out that the preparation of these workers is much lower than that of any taxi driver. In London, it is necessary to pass a severe examination of the knowledge of the streets and routes of the city to obtain a license. The drivers of Uber, accuse taxi associations, rely exclusively on the guidance of their portable GPS.

But, in addition to the street, the battle has been fought in court. And the results, so far, have been contradictory and provisional. The Labor mayor, Sadiq Khan, agreed, in September 2017, to revoke Uber's license to operate in the city, valid for five years. The alleged motives were "public safety", after receiving numerous complaints about the lack of diligence on the part of the company when checking the criminal records of their drivers. Several clients claimed to have suffered sexual harassment attempts during the trip. The company was considered "not prepared or appropriate" to facilitate that public service by a first court. The Westminster High Court, however, corrected that decision last July and awarded Uber a provisional license of 15 months, waiting for the company to perform a complete audit on its way of operating. Uber voluntarily agreed to that audit.

Taxi associations have now turned to the Mishcon de Reya law firm and are considering filing a class-action lawsuit to claim almost 1,400 million euros. In London, about 25,000 taxi drivers operate in front of the 40,000 Uber drivers. According to the lawsuit, each one of them would have lost more than 11,000 euros per year in the last five years because of their rivals.


A poster against Uber in Paris.
A poster against Uber in Paris. AFP

France, 'pax' between taxis and VTC

Marc Bassets, Paris

In the country of yellow vests, peace reigns for two years between taxis and VTCs or tourist vehicles with professional driver. Two laws – one of 2014 and another of 2016 – and, in the period between the two, the intervention of the State Council, have served to impose a certain order on the sector and, finally, to gain social calm after repeated episodes of riots and blockades.

The law of the end of 2014 tried to regulate a sector that was then booming and still subject to few controls. In the following months, the Council of State revoked some points of the law that harmed the VTC, such as the requirement of a 15-minute period between the booking of the vehicle and its arrival, or the prohibition to inform the customer, via the application of the mobile, of the location of the vehicle. The Council of State maintained instead the obligation to register VTCs in a registry, to control the aptitude of the drivers and the justification of a previous reservation, something that does not happen with taxis.

The law left open fringes, which fed several protests, some violent, in the following years. Another law of 2016, promoted by the socialist deputy Laurent Grandguillaume, simplified the legal status of drivers, which limited access to work as a driver, and also reorganized the examinations to conduct a VTC. According to data published in 2018 by the weekly L'ExpressToday, there are 25,969 VTC licenses in France, two thirds of them in the Paris region, and 60,000 national taxi licenses, of which 17,924 in and around Paris.

The conflicts are not over –complaints about working conditions and lack of protection of drivers of VTC continue to be the subject of controversy – but in cities like Paris, services like Uber today coexist with a taxi service that has been forced to improve performance to compete.


Germany, years of litigation in the courts

Enrique Müller, Berlin

In Germany, Uber is present in four large cities (Berlin, Munich, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt) and since it began operating in the country has lost several legal battles. The first was in 2015: a sentence prohibited the service UberPOP, which allowed anyone with their own vehicle to work as a driver. After two years of litigation, the court ratified the ban last March. A new verdict of the Federal Supreme Court forced in 2016 to regulate the VTC in much the same way as taxis, and since then their drivers need a passenger transport license and their companies need a taxi concession regulated by the Länder.

Interface of the Uber application on a mobile.
Interface of the Uber application on a mobile. AFP

Last December, Uber again suffered a legal defeat when the Federal Supreme Court ruled that the platform was not authorized to resume its former Uber Black limousine service in Germany. The Court ruled that the platform had violated the passenger transport law with its services, which establishes that a rental car has to return to the base at the end of the trip and that it can only carry out the services initially contracted at the headquarters of the company. the company. Taxi drivers, according to the Court, can receive orders directly from the passenger, must offer fixed rates and can not refuse unprofitable transportation.

Since 2016, Uber manages the services of cars with driver through the Uber X application, which meets the requirements of the German legislation. All drivers have a license according to the legislation for the transport of passengers and all vehicles are registered as rental cars and insured.

Taxis in Lisbon.
Taxis in Lisbon. EFE

Portugal, a national law to regulate Uber

Javier Martín, Lisbon

The Socialist Party in the Government and the first opposition party, the PSD Social Democrat, united their votes to approve the Uber law, in force since November. The partners of the Government, PC and Bloco, voted against the Executive "dazzled by the multinationals," according to the communist Bruno Dias. The legalization of the VTC involves paying the State 5% of the amount of each trip. Your drivers must have a work contract and pass a driving course. The taxi will also be able to operate with operators of these electronic platforms. The law also leaves open the possibility that the Town Councils determine the number of VTC vehicles that work in their area.

The long wait to support this type of transport has left several national strikes in the taxi sector, Uber workers aggressions and even a presidential veto to the first law approved by Parliament, when the travel tax varied between 0.1% and 2% of the final amount.

The taxi will continue to enjoy the privileges of exclusive lanes, free stops on public roads and reservations in advance, apart from subsidies and financial advantages for the renewal of vehicles.


Protest of taxi drivers against Uber in Turin.
Protest of taxi drivers against Uber in Turin. EFE

Italy, coexistence with limits to the VTC

Lorena Pacho, Rome

In Italy, the coexistence between the taxi sector and the services of car rental with driver (NCC) -the equivalent to the VTC licenses of Spain- is historically convulsive. Last year and the previous one, the taxi drivers carried out numerous stoppages to demand that the Government fill the legal gap regarding Uber and that the services of car rental with driver be controlled.

Last December, the Executive approved a decree obliging vehicles with NCC license to return to the base after each race, unless other contracts already established for the day are included in the initial service sheet. That is, they can not circulate around the city in search of clients after each service. (Actually this measure was introduced in 2008, but since then successive governments have systematically postponed its entry into force up to 11 times, which has triggered numerous protests by taxi drivers over the years. do not grant a new extension). Last month the protests broke out again, this time with the NCC at the front, which considered the rule as "a favor to the taxi sector." These days the conversion into the law of the decree is debated in the Senate and the demonstrations have intensified in Rome.

Uber, who has a long history of litigation in the courts in Italy and that only works in the country with its high-end vehicles with professional driver, and also with a higher cost, for the time being has maintained a low profile in the protests and in negotiations with the Government.


Brussels: coexistence on the street, war in the courts

Lluís Pellicer, Brussels

The Uber service operates normally on the streets of Brussels. But that does not mean that the taxi sector is not at war with the thousand drivers that, according to the North American company, are attached to the platform. Their battles have not gone as far as in Spain and so far have been resolved in court. And although the sentences have been contradictory, the latest victory of the platform has made the authorities of the Belgian capital conclude that the service is legal and should continue to function.

Protest against Uber in Brussels.
Protest against Uber in Brussels. EFE

The taxi sector sang victory at the beginning of the year, when a judgment of a Dutch Commercial Court was made public, declaring the illegality of Uberpop, the application that puts individuals in contact. That ruling concluded that only drivers with a taxi license and with a luminous sign could exercise. The union called for the platform to be outlawed, but the platform alleged that the service that was to be banned was no longer in operation in the capital.

Only a couple of weeks later, another Francophone Mercantile Court ruled on UberX, which connects professionals with users. The ruling stated that Uber respects the city's legislation and that companies are not obligated to connect to the application or tied for a certain number of hours. Although the taxi drivers announced that they will appeal the ruling, the authorities of the Brussels region gave the debate closed and advocated to advance a reform that balances the sector – for example, requiring drivers to pass a test – and that is now stopped at waiting for a report on the international legislation of this platform.


Russia, the country where Yandex has control

María R. Sahuquillo, Moscow

Since the Russian Internet giant Yandex opened its taxi service, Yandex Taxi, the streets of Moscow and other cities of Russia have been filled with cars of the brand. It was a boom. Especially in large cities – in small cities, telephone services still triumph. The company emerged in 2011 to take advantage of the growing digital market and mobile applications to compete against Uber. And it has managed to oust the American company. In December, both companies finished merging their services in Russia, mainly because Uber had to cede them due to the strength of its competitor. And together they have filled the market.

A Yandex car, in Russia.
A Yandex car, in Russia. (REUTERS)

Now, private taxis coexist with traditional companies, taxis of Internet platforms, such as Yandex – which in turn has agreements with taxi drivers and traditional companies or the Israeli Gett, and private cars that work for Uber or Yandex. In Russia, passenger cars are legal. They just need to get a license, the same as the taxis, which costs up to 130 euros depending on the city and is valid for five years. It is estimated that in Russia (144.5 million inhabitants) there are some 584,000 taxi drivers or drivers of similar vehicles, according to official data. And that in the capital (11.9 million inhabitants) 760,000 Muscovites take one of these transports daily.

In the Euro-Asian country the controversy surrounds rather the price of the races, since the entry in the first market of Uber and after Yandex increased the number of vehicles and reduced the costs for the passengers. The rates are not regulated: each private taxi offers one, and the digital companies graduate them according to the day, time, traffic jams, time or availability of vehicles. Of that amount, companies are left with between 20% and 30%. What has generated protests. Taxi drivers and drivers say they are forced to work days of 14 hours to get an acceptable amount per day. And they have demanded that the authorities regulate the prices, but the companies refuse. They argue that the number of travelers would fall.

A Uber driver in New York.
A Uber driver in New York. AFP

In the Uber Uber has already won

Pablo Ximénez de Sandoval, Los Angeles

The cities of the United States have been Uber's test field for the past eight years. The pioneer, Uber, first appeared on mobile phones in 2010 in San Francisco. Anyone with a car and a phone could take a customer and pay Uber a commission as an intermediary. The State of California took two years to name this new business: TNC (Transportation Network Companies). During the first years, this pattern was followed: Uber acts and the administrations run behind to regulate it. Has been prohibitions, protests, regulations and counter-regulations. The landscape after the battle, in 2019, is that of a company that has already created a need without which transportation is not understood in the large cities of the country.

The regulation of the TNCs (Uber, Lyft, Gett and Via are the best known) depends on the local governments. Years have passed until the five most populated metropolitan areas in the United States (New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas and Houston) published regulations demanding minimum standards, such as maximum age of the car, inspections of vehicles, the need to register and take out a license, the insurance necessary to carry passengers or limits of hours worked. Along the way, Uber and Lyft left Houston and were banned in Austin, until the State of Texas made a law that overturned local regulations deemed excessive. In places like Los Angeles where there are no alternatives to the car, Uber has become de facto in the true public transport of the city when filling a service that there was not or was outrageously expensive. In New York, where taxi companies are an essential part of the city, the conflict is more evident. The city last year approved a limit on the number of people who can be on the street offering services with their own car.

The battle against taxis has already been won by the TNC. The space to reverse the business is minimal. Upon landing in any city in the country, Americans turn on their phone and expect to see an Uber service at the airport as the most normal in the world. Now, the new tension front is between Uber and his drivers, who struggle to be recognized as employees and try to create unions, which poses an existential threat to the business model of the digital company.


Mexico City, the first Latin American city to regulate the VTC

A taxi in Mexico City.
A taxi in Mexico City.

Elijah Camhaji. Mexico

Taxi drivers opposed Uber by unfair competition since he arrived in Mexico City in August 2013. While taxi drivers had to pay high costs to get their registration, register as drivers and paint their cars for users to identify them in the streets, there was no regulation for private services Of transport. Reports of protests, beatings, vehicle vandalism and intimidation of Uber drivers were common. The company operates in 45 cities in 23 of the 32 states in the country.

The local government organized debates in 2014 to mediate the conflict and arrived in July 2015 to an agreement to regulate all transport applications. The law, the first in Latin America, It establishes a register of drivers, the payment of an annual permit and charges a tax of 1.5% for each trip made. Although the registration costs the same for taxi drivers and private drivers (about 250 euros), a taxi driver must pay 27 times more for their concession and the authorities directly set their rates. Some of the provisions that were devised to protect taxis failed, such as the prohibition of charging cash or limiting their services at airports and bus terminals.

The diagnosis of the new Government is that the regulations are still lax, opaque and must be rethought. While this happens and although there are no official statistics, it is increasingly common for drivers to choose to enroll in new platforms or alternate between different applications to have diversified income sources.


Argentina, a lawful but irregular activity

Enric González, Buenos Aires

Argentine taxi drivers are at war with Uber. Since April 12, 2016, when the application was launched, they have not stopped registering protests (more than 30 demonstrations) and attacks against vehicles. Uber, unlike regular platforms such as Cabify, operates outside the law and, despite this, has more than 30,000 drivers throughout the country and transports more than two million passengers a year. In mid-January, a court in Buenos Aires ordered the mobile phone companies to block the application of Uber. But companies say that applying the court order could harm "the integrity and security of the network."

Protest of Argentine taxi drivers against Uber.
Protest of Argentine taxi drivers against Uber. EFE

Uber is not registered in Argentina as a transport company, nor does it have a fiscal license number. The government of the province of Buenos Aires affirms that Uber's situation is "inadmissible" because it violates the transport law. Already in 2016, a contentious-fiscal court ordered the suspension of all activity. The following year, a criminal court considered its activity "legal", although commercial and fiscally irregular. During the first quarter of 2018, the municipality of Buenos Aires carried out illegal transport controls on almost 10,000 vehicles, and about 900 resulted to work for Uber. The fine is 130,000 pesos, more than 3,000 euros to change.

The so-called "Uber-hunting commandos", formed by taxi drivers, identify transport vehicles and destroy them during the night. On occasion, it is assumed that by mistake, they have also attacked cars that work for Cabify, in a completely legal situation.

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