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Madrid taxi drivers call off strike without achieving their objectives

The stoppage, which began on January 21, was aimed at pressuring the regional government into regulating VTC vehicles, used by ride-hailing services such as Cabify and Uber

Drivers wait to vote on the strike on Tuesday.
Drivers wait to vote on the strike on Tuesday.

Madrid’s taxi drivers on Tuesday voted by a narrow margin to end the strike action they began 16 days ago to demand regulations for private hire vehicles known in Spain as VTC, and which are used by ride-hailing applications such as Cabify and Uber.

A total of 20,961 drivers from the sector were called upon to vote, of whom 7,843 cast their ballot (37.4% of the total census). Around 54% of the valid votes supported an end to the work stoppage (4,223 drivers), compared to 45% who voted to continue (3,522). There were 22 spoiled ballots and 60 abstentions. The capital’s cab drivers were due to restart normal services at 6am today.

We have suffered the total contempt of the PP and its partner Ciudadanos. We hope that they suffer the consequences at the ballot boxes

Julio Sanz, Professional Taxi Federation

The voting began at 10am on Tuesday at the taxi stand at the T-4 terminal in Adolfo Suárez Madrid-Barajas airport. The number of cab drivers were waiting to vote as the polls were about to close, at 6pm, prompted the organizers to extend the time period by half an hour.

The heads of the five collectives that called the stoppage admitted that the margin of votes against was very low. “The fact that we have been inactive for so many days and that many people have taken out loans to buy their licenses has had a large effect,” sources from the Professional Union of Taxis (6,000 licenses) explained on Tuesday. “They couldn’t take much more of this.”

“There are people who have had to make use of micro-loans or help from their families to be able to survive these recent days,” added sources from the Professional Taxi Federation (6,000 licenses). “That’s really tough.”

Despite not having reached a deal with the regional government, unlike their colleagues in Barcelona, the organizers of the Madrid stoppage did not consider the industrial action to be a failure. “We have managed to unite all of the professionals and associations in just one name: the taxi,” said the president of the Professional Taxi Federation, Julio Sanz. “It wasn’t a failure,” added Felipe Rodríguez Baeza, the president of the Madrid Taxi Association (1,300 licenses). “The stoppage has been exemplary and we have reduced our demands with the Madrid regional government, which has refused to listen to us.”

There are people who have had to make use of micro-loans or help from their families to survive these recent days

Professional Taxi Federation

In Barcelona, cab drivers also staged stoppages, and managed to achieve concessions from the Catalan regional government, which promised regulations forcing passengers to book their journeys with services such as Uber and Cabify 15 minutes in advance. This prompted both the companies to announce on January 31 that they were pulling out of the city, costing around 3,000 people their jobs.

The Madrid regional government, run by the conservative Popular Party (PP) with support from center-right group Ciudadanos (Citizens), offered the taxi drivers a new decree that would regulate the sector, without specifically legislating on VTC vehicles for fear of negatively affecting their business or prompting job losses in the sector.

“They insulted us on Monday,” said the president of the FPT on Tuesday. “They belittled us in the most vile and cowardly way, as well as going back on everything that they had said in the previous days,” he continued. “The collective has learned which party it can count on, and which it can’t. We have suffered the total contempt of the PP and its partner Ciudadanos. We hope that they suffer the consequences at the ballot boxes.” Sanz added that he considered the PP to be “the most corrupt party in Spain.”

The organizers of the strike apologized to their customers and to Madrileños in general for the inconvenience the stoppage has caused. “We hope to be able to pay them back soon for everything that has happened,” leaders in the sector said on Tuesday.

More demonstrations are planned, however, with a protest scheduled for Saturday near Atocha train station to call for an end to the “uberization” of transportation in the region.

The Madrid strikes began on Monday January 21 at 6am. The main protests saw the cab drivers block off IFEMA, the capital’s main exhibition center, during the FITUR tourism fair. They also parked on the central Castellana boulevard over the weekend, and held demonstrations in the central Puerta del Sol square, and outside the headquarters of the PP in Génova street. One cab driver was seriously injured when he was hit by a VTC vehicle during a protest on one of Madrid’s freeways.

English version by Simon Hunter.

The root of the conflict

EL PAÍS

  • Taxi drivers and associations have been protesting in Spain ever since the arrival of services such as Uber, which they consider to be unfair competition.
  • Despite a rise in Spain’s population, not to mention a surge in tourism, in January of this year there were just 65,657 taxi licenses in Spain, according to Public Works Ministry figures. That is actually a drop from the 72,000 available in 1994.
  • The licenses can be traded, and in Madrid can sell for anywhere between €135,000 and €160,000.
  • VTC licenses, meanwhile, can be bought for tens of thousands of euros, and drivers are subject to laxer regulations. There are currently more than 13,000 in existence nationwide.
  • Taxi drivers want strict regulations to be put in place that limit the ratio of cab licenses to taxi licenses.
  • Cab owners also object to VTC drivers parking on the street and are calling for a limit to the amount of time they can circulate looking for passengers. They also are demanding that VTC vehicles be prohibited from covering journeys of less than five kilometers.
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