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Uber, Cabify offer free rides in Spanish cities in protest at government plan

The Cabinet is due to pass legislation on Friday that would cede control of private-hire licenses to Spain’s regions, which will, says one association, put 15,000 jobs at risk

A VTC driver collects a passenger in Madrid.
A VTC driver collects a passenger in Madrid.

Online transport firms Cabify and Uber were offering free rides between 10am and 10pm on Wednesday in the Spanish cities where they operate, in a bid to introduce their services to citizens and also to protest against a royal decree that is due to be approved by the Cabinet on Friday.

The legislation that is likely to be green-lit by the government of Socialist Party (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez will transfer the powers to grant licenses to private-hire drivers (known in Spain as VTC) from Madrid to the regional governments, giving the latter the power to restrict the activity of such companies by, in effect, demanding that they apply for a second license, this time from the local authorities.

Private-hire drivers would have to apply for a second license, this time from the local authorities

The arrival of companies such as Cabify and Uber has met stiff opposition from taxi associations, and the companies have been the target of a series of protests by taxi associations, who consider them unfair competition. Taxi drivers accuse the firm of intruding in the sector, of not paying taxes, and of benefiting from the cheaper cost of a VTC license compared to that of a taxi.

Taxi drivers are demanding that the Spanish authorities respect the ratio of one VTC license for every 30 taxis. Currently, the average ratio in Spain is one in six.

Taxi associations have announced that they will take the free-ride promotion to Spain’s National Commission on Markets and Competition

VTC drivers are planning stoppages in response to the decree, similar to those that have been staged by taxi drivers over recent years.

Wednesday’s free-ride promotion was organized by UNAUTO, the business association covering the VTC sector, and is part of a campaign with the slogan #EnElFuturoCabemosTodos (or, there is room for us all in the future). UNAUTO claims that 15,000 jobs will be at risk if this new legislation is passed. Drivers will today be explaining their experiences in their job to their passengers, and “the role that their community, both users and drivers, has in the present and future of mobility,” UNAUTO says.

Taxi associations have announced that they will take the free-ride promotion to Spain’s National Commission on Markets and Competition (CNMC), considering that such a “Japanese-style strike” (a term given to the Spanish urban legend that Japanese people overwork as a form of industrial action) is illegal.

English version by Simon Hunter.

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