The future of VTC licenses in Madrid, in the hands of Vox

The future of VTC licenses in Madrid, in the hands of Vox

There are almost four key months ahead to find out what will happen in Spain with the VTC (transport vehicles with driver) -such as those operated by Uber or Cabify-, which have monopolized controversy and uncertainty in recent years. On the one hand, because the October 1 expires the four-year moratorium granted by the Ministry, then headed by José Luis Ábalosso that the communities –or municipalities– regulate this activity in their territories, which allowed these vehicles to continue operating. On the other, because in parallel there is a judicial marathon to decide if the regulation in force is compatible with European standards: the Supreme Court has asked the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) if it is legal to limit the number of VTC to one for every 30 taxis.

The next chapter that will decide if companies like Uber, Bolt or Cabify can continue operating, in this case in Madrid, it will take place this Thursday with the voting in the regional Assembly of the regulation that puts an end to this moratorium; gives free rein to the VTC to continue operating on urban routes, waiting for a regulation that goes into detail about how this activity has to be carried out; and that, therefore, has once again put the taxi sector on alert.

As an appetizer, taxi drivers have called a rally this Wednesday, the same day that the Governing Council of the Community meets. The group is called to demonstrate at 10:00 between Plaza de Neptuno and Plaza de Colón. "We will leave our cars and walk to Puerta del Sol to deliver an offer to the regional government, which they will surely not be able to refuse. It is a civic act of protest, without disturbances, and always complying with the instructions of the Government Delegation," says the Madrid Professional Taxi Federation (FPTM).

In Thursday's vote, Vox's support or abstention from a regulation that can be outlined as the line to be followed by other communities -basically, those governed by PP- and that is only two weeks before the Andalusian elections, will be decisive. that raises its political burden.

The Government presided over by Isabel Díaz Ayuso approved on May 4 a project that modifies the Law of Organization and Coordination of Urban Transport of the Community of Madrid, of 1998, which ends that four-year moratorium and will allow the VTC to continue operating in the capital from October. Pending how the regulatory development is drafted, the vehicles with a driver will work as before: they cannot circulate empty looking for passengers on the street, they have to be pre-contracted via applications and they do not have specific stops. They will therefore be able to continue operating within the city and not only for intercity services, for which, initially, the VTCs were defined.

“The regional Executive is committed to guaranteeing the best and most complete transport offer to the people of Madrid, promoting freedom of choice, economic activity, employment and competition, so that all forms of passenger movement will coexist”, assured the Madrid Government, which intends to approve the norm by single reading. That is, on the fast track, without debate in committee or the possibility of the opposition presenting amendments.

This formula, they consider from Más Madrid, "cuts off the work of the different agents and restricts their participation when submitting amendments and discussing in depth the object of the Law." For this reason, the parliamentary group presented a non-law proposal to demand the withdrawal of a project that arrives “late and badly”. “Regular, what is said to be regular, they do not regulate anything”, they indicate from the formation, which points out that the rates are not controlled, they allow the licenses to continue “working as is” and “they entrust any specific requirement to a subsequent regulation”, such as the percentage of vehicles that must be adapted, training, pre-contracting or recruitment.

“We have never said that they end the VTC service, we have told them to set rules, that they have demands to provide the service. They talk so much about competition and they forget that for this there has to be equality and clear rules," says the spokeswoman for Más Madrid, Mónica García, who considers that when the Ayuso Executive "a large corporation is put in front of them, they lower their ears".

The co-spokesperson for United We Can in the Assembly, Carolina Alonso, lamented that the president has "sided with the multinationals and the old acquaintances of the PP, who are the ones who own the large fleets of VTC vehicles." “Meanwhile, she breaks her promises, closes the door to dialogue and abandons the taxi workers, most of them self-employed. We are talking about 25,000 families in the Community of Madrid”, she indicates. This group, one of those that has most clearly positioned itself on the side of taxi drivers, is committed to "dialogue between the parties and the defense of the taxi." “We know what has happened when the service has been privatized in other capitals: that speculation arrives and making a trip from your house to the hospital instead of ten euros can cost you 20, because there are hardly any taxis left and there is no cap on prices”, warns Alonso.

The PSOE has also shown its willingness to vote against the single reading. Thus, the viability of the PP bill, which has the taxi sector against it, depends on the decision that Vox makes in the coming days. From the far-right formation they are still studying the issue before advancing what the position of their group will be in the Assembly, which can facilitate with its support or abstention the processing by single reading or, on the contrary, prevent it from going ahead with their refusal, something that does not usually happen in the regional Chamber, where those of Rocío Monasterio have facilitated all the important initiatives that the conservatives have presented.

Just a few days before the appointment in the Assembly, the taxi sector recognizes that it is trying to convince Vox to vote against the project of the Ayuso Government. "We are maintaining contacts, meetings. We try to convince them," argues Julio Sanz, president of the Madrid Taxi Professional Federation. "Abstention is not worth it for us. What we need is the vote against Vox and for a law to be made in conditions, with amendments and evaluations from the groups. If there is an intention to do things well, there is time."

Taxi drivers mobilize and recognize that, if the regulation in Madrid goes ahead as it is proposed, they will take it to court and may demand financial compensation because it would hit the value of their licenses. "There may be patrimonial responsibility. If I have entered a sector with certain conditions and they change them, there is patrimonial damage," emphasizes Sanz.

The key is, therefore, whether or not Vox sides with the taxi drivers. During the great conflict in the taxi sector in 2019, with a strike that lasted for 16 days, the far-right party kept a low profile. No photos with the workers, as has happened with the carriers or with the field demonstrations, although they later vote against laws that claim these sectors, such as the food chain law, which prevents selling at a loss. So, there was only one proposal, which went through the liberalization of the sector. It was formulated by Iván Espinosa de los Monteros through Twitter and consisted of "compensating acquired rights". The Vox spokesman also proposed granting VTC licenses to taxi drivers during the first years so that they could "sell it", "switch to VTC" if they believed it was more profitable or "exploit the license with a third party".

Also in Madrid, in June 2021, the City Council headed by José Luis Martínez-Almeida approved a new taxi regulation, with the support of PP, Ciudadanos and Vox, which 'uberized' the operation of this service, which it put to compete with VTC platforms. The question now is that the decision that the far-right party has to make affects about 16,000 taxi drivers in the Community, but it sends a warning to the owners of the 9,219 licenses in Andalusia, where all the surveys indicate that training will be key for the formation of the new government. The Andalusian president, Juan Manuel Moreno Bonilla, has not yet approved a regulation, although he must do so before October.

Sources from the Ministry of Public Works of Andalusia point out that "the State may approve a moratorium", which prevents the regional governments from having to legislate on the VTC. "In Andalusia, the State has been asked to regulate for all of Spain," these same sources assure.

The Government of the Community of Madrid has given free rein to the continuity of the VTC licenses, waiting to know what will happen in the vote in the Assembly and what will happen in other autonomous communities. In theory, if these vehicles are not regulated by communities and municipalities, as of October 1, they could only make intercity trips. Of the 16,000 VTC licenses that currently exist at the state level, half are in the region headed by Díaz Ayuso.

Autonomies and consistories have a trick to regulate, but their registration depends on the Ministry of Transport, Mobility and Urban Agenda. From the body headed by Raquel Sánchez, they explain that, in 2018, with Ábalos, "this challenge was addressed from the beginning from a global perspective, with the aim of achieving fair competition between the taxi sector and the leasing of vehicles with driver , as well as that this matter be regulated from the administrations closest to the users, more 'attached' to the territory, as they know first-hand how needs can be better met".

The Ministry explains that four years ago "the autonomous communities were authorized to modify the operating conditions of VTCs nationwide, for services in their territory, including conditions such as pre-contracting, requesting services, attracting clients, routes minimum and maximum, mandatory services or schedules and technical specifications of tourism". At the same time, "it was determined that the national VTCs were authorized exclusively to carry out intercity passenger transport, without the possibility of carrying out urban transport, at the end of a transitional period of four years."

In other words, according to Transportes "after this four-year period, it is necessary for the autonomous communities or town councils to establish the regulations they consider for the provision of urban services by the VTCs."

Since that so-called 'Ábalos decree', indicates a Transport spokesman, "the Ministry has wanted to maintain a role of facilitator, promoting the technical working subgroup with the autonomous communities, dependent on the Commission of General Directors of Transport, created to share good regulatory practices and successful experiences in the search for solutions that facilitate an orderly coexistence between the taxi and the VTC and advance in the improvement of the user experience in both sectors, and its action is focused on this area".

Regarding the requirement that one VTC circulate for every 30 taxis, this requirement is maintained in the regulation approved by the Government of the Community of Madrid. However, the text that came out of the Casa de Correos acknowledges that "taking into account the authorizations of the VT class [los taxis]”, as of the date of preparation of the new law “is 15,772, and that of VTC is 8,425 (as of the date of the update of the report 15,388 and 8,405, respectively), the proportion is greatly exceeded, so Until it reached values ​​from 1 to 30, authorizations from the regulated companies could not be granted”.

“It is understood that the rule does not entail administrative burdens, not being certain of when they will be able to be granted taking into account the proportion described, so it is not appropriate to make a measurement of burdens that it is not known if they will occur and, in its case, when”, it affects, leaving the door open for there to be no new license concessions.

In parallel there is also the judicial route, where there is not only licenses paralyzed due to complaints filed in recent years, but the Supreme Court has raised the question of whether the 1/30 limitation is legal to Europe. Specifically, it has made a preliminary ruling to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) to give its opinion and decide whether this condition is compatible with the European standards of freedom of establishment.

Source link