(Published in Colombia Reports)
Fifteen thousand taxis drivers in Colombia’s second largest city, Medellin, went on strike to protest the arrival of ride-share company, Uber, as well as other forms of so-called “transportation piracy,” Colombian media reported on Monday.
The decision to protest the San Francisco-based mega ride-share company, along with other enterprises that undermine taxi services, has since spread to other areas of the country such as Bogota and Barranquilla.
The complaint: Uber could take 40% of customers
In mid-July, Colombia’s Ministry of Transportation reversed their earlier decision declaring Uber’s operations in Colombia as illegal. The ministry also announced that at the end of July a decree would be established that would regulate the uses and application of ride-sharing and specialty vehicle services such as Uber, according to Colombia’s Semana news magazine.
“Recognizing that that the community requires a different service, and for this reason Uber was born, there will be several different conditions of service and characteristics particular for these types of vehicles and drivers, and for this reason they will have a special rate,” said Deputy Transport Minister Nicolas Estupinan.
However, taxi drivers are furious with the decision to allow the ride-share company to operate in Colombia, citing an inevitable drop in work and the questionable legality of a taxi-like service that has a separate rate structure than their own.
“All we’re waiting on now is for Deputy Estupinan to call a meeting with our union, and formally report to us the decree that favors Uber,” said Free Taxi general manager Uldaric Pena.
“We are concerned because Uber uses a different rate system that that the the authorities put on us,” Pena continued. “We demand that there is a consensus.”
Pena estimated that Uber may take away as much as 40% of regular taxi work, Semana reported.
Uber uses a mobile app that connects users to drivers for hire and rides-haring services. Users send a text to request a ride, and the fee is payed by their credit card linked to the Uber app instead of cash.
Uber’s Colombian units will have a starting rate of around $1.50, with a minimum fare of $3, according to their website.
A ride to Bogota’s airport, for example, will have a flat rate of $20.
Taxi drivers respond, “we all have to protest together”
“We are against all special vehicles who provide such individual transport through the Uber app,” said Medellin taxi driver Andres Montoya as quoted in Bogota’s Blu Radio.
“I don’t like what is going to happen with the taxi system in Medellin, as well as the piracy” commented another taxi driver, adding, “the protest is justified.”
While not all taxi drivers are on strike, some feel a duty to join the protest based on their group interests. “If some work and others don’t, then it isn’t fair. We all have to protest together,” Montoya said.
Drivers are also using this moment to launch criticism at other issues regarding taxi culture in major cities. Medellin drivers have long criticized the “peajito,” or toll station in northern Medellin on their way to and from the airport, which has a cost of $1 each time and adds up when drivers are making several trips to and from the airport.
The protesters are also bringing light to the prevalent issue of “transportation piracy,” where unidentified cars will drive normal bus and taxi routes, offering a fare lower than the official methods of transportation. These illegal transportation operations are ubiquitous throughout major cities such as Medellin, Cali, and Bogota.
Several taxi drivers in Medellin who spoke to Colombia Reports said that they believed that as of Wednesday the taxi strike in Medellin had ended, and that conversations between the heads of taxi organizations and the Ministry of Transportation would occur in the future.
“There was some concern and discontent earlier in the week which lead to protesting in Medellin, but now everyone is back to work,” confirmed one taxi driver located in Medellin’s center.
Strike spreads throughout Colombia
While taxis in the western city of Cali will not join this round of protest, other major cities such as Bogota and Barranquilla have taken on Medellin’s strike in the last few days, Blu Radio Reported.
Around 2AM on Wednesday, the president of the Federation of Taxis in Bogota, Javier Monroy Velandia, confirmed that a city-wide taxi strike had been initiated, according to Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper.
Taxis in various parts of the city including around Bogota’s El Dorado airport attempted to block major roads beginning in the early morning. Anti-riot police quickly dispersed the drivers in high-traffic areas such as Highway 63 South, Boyaca Avenue, and Villavicencio City Avenue.
Monroy confirmed that the strike was underway not only because of Uber, but also cited piracy as well as a demand for a rate increase in order to meet the costs of an administrative decree that requires owners of the vehicles to pay social security to their drivers, according to El Tiempo.
In Barranquilla, located in the northern Caribbean coast, taxi drivers focused their protest on the recent assessment of taxi rates by the mayor of Barranquilla, which were made without the exact figures regarding the number of taxis currently in operation in the city.