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Spanish taxi drivers begin indefinite strike in Madrid and Barcelona

The stoppage is part of an ongoing protest against the increased presence of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Cabify

Taxi drivers protest in Barcelona.
Taxi drivers protest in Barcelona. EFE

Taxi drivers in Madrid began an indefinite strike at 6am today to call for for stricter regulations against ride-hailing services such as Uber and Cabify, which operate under chauffeured rental vehicle licenses known in Spain as VTC.

They are joining cab drivers in Barcelona, who have been on strike since Friday and continue to block the central Gran Vía boulevard. The strike has since spread to other Catalan municipalities including Mataró, Sabadell and Terrassa.

Taxi drivers have blocked the Gran Vía avenue in Barcelona for four days.
Taxi drivers have blocked the Gran Vía avenue in Barcelona for four days. EFE

More than 26,000 taxi drivers have stopped work in Madrid and Barcelona, bringing the 15,723 vehicles licensed to operate in the cities to a standstill. Around 100 special taxis that are adapted for disabled passengers will be available for customers who need dialysis treatment, oncology tests or who have reduced mobility. The Spanish Taxi Federation (Fedetaxi) has warned there could be more protests in other cities to come.

Barcelona

On Monday morning, taxi drivers dressed in yellow vests descended upon the headquarters of the regional Economy Ministry in the Catalan capital. The drivers are protesting against new rules that say that users who want to use a VTC service must book them 15 minutes ahead of their desired collection time. The regional government offered to apply other restrictions and to extend this period depending on environmental and other factors. In other words, the greater the threat to the environment, the greater the waiting period. But taxi representatives want the period to be extended to between 12 and 24 hours.

A taxi driver shows the mark left after he was beaten by a police officer.

The new regulation has also upset VTC drivers, who say it jeopardizes their jobs. On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of VTC drivers blocked parts of the city’s Diagonal thoroughfare to protest against the regional government having left them out of negotiations.

A taxi driver punctures the tire of a VTC car on the way to the B-10 Motorway.

“We have shown we can also block Barcelona and we will do it during the Mobile World Congress if we need to,” said a spokesperson for the VTC sector, in reference to the global tech event that will take place there at the end of February.

Taxi drivers in Barcelona will protest in front of the Catalan parliament against VTC businesses.

Both the VTC and taxi protests took place spontaneously, without a formal request or an official record of the minimum services that would be provided. Barcelona City Hall recognized yesterday the “right to protest” and has asked for the road blockage to end soon.

Madrid

Meanwhile in Madrid, regional premier Ángel Garrido has offered express legal reforms “in defense of the rights” of the sector but taxi drivers argue that other authorities “must respond to their demands.” Taxi drivers in the Spanish capital are planning a mass demonstration in Madrid’s central square, the popular tourist landmark Puerta del Sol.

Taxi representatives say 100% of drivers in Madrid are on strike, according to Europa Press. The protest comes ahead of the International Tourism Fair (Fitur), which will take place from January 23 to 27, and the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, scheduled between January 25 and 30.

Legal decree

Last year, in response to widespread protests across the country, the Public Works Ministry approved a legal decree giving regional and local governments powers to decide how many VTC licenses to issue within city limits. This means that the current ratio of one VTC license for every 30 taxi licenses could be drastically reduced, or even eliminated altogether in some municipalities.

The new rules give these businesses a four-year period to keep operating, after which their current licenses – which are valid across the entire Spanish territory – will be subject to invalidation by local authorities at the latter’s discretion. But taxi drivers want local authorities to introduce new restrictions on VTC businesses before this deadline. Uber and Cabify meanwhile, have warned they will appeal to the Supreme Court if regional or local governments try to limit their operations.

Violent protests

Six people have been arrested for disorderly conduct and damaging more than 30 VTC cars during the protests on Friday in Barcelona, according to Cabify. On Sunday, during a meeting of taxi drivers, EL PAÍS journalist Alfonso L. Congostrina was punched in the nose by one of the attendees who wanted to stop him from filming the discussion.

Élite Taxi, the most active association in the protests, released a press release condemning the violence. Catalan premier Quim Torra and City Hall councilors also condemned the incidents and expressed their support for the journalists in messages on Twitter.

Spanish Formula 1 star Carlos Sainz took to Twitter on Sunday to denounce the actions of a taxi driver, who threw a rock at the VTC vehicle his sister was traveling in.

I’m outraged about the assault my sister experienced yesterday in an Uber in Madrid. A taxi driver threw a rock at them. It could have done a lot of damage or something even worse. I know most of the sector does not approve this type of aggression but they must put an end to this situation.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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