Police made one arrest on Wednesday as Madrid taxi drivers escalated their street protests against what they view as unfair competition from online ride-sharing services such as Uber and Cabify. At least 11 people have sustained injuries as demonstrators clashed with riot police on the M-40 beltway.
Protesters wearing yellow vests reminiscent of recent anti-government marches in Paris burnt tires and containers and blocked access roads near Ifema, a convention center that is hosting Spain’s leading tourism fair, Fitur.
King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia, who officially inaugurated the event this morning, were forced to use a side door to bypass the roadblocks, which brought traffic to a standstill. Many attendees cancelled their plans, while others, like a group of workers from the Sercotel hotel chain, were forced to “cover three kilometers on foot and dragging our suitcases, because the bus could not move forward.”
One protester was arrested on the M-40 ring road for blocking access to the Ifema center. There have also been reports of violence against ride-sharing vehicles, one of which was escorted by patrol cars after having its windshield smashed in.
The police escort a VTC (vehicle for hire) car with a smashed windshield near the Ifema center, while protesting taxi drivers yell as it passes by
On Tuesday, a taxi driver was taken to hospital in a critical condition after being thrown to the ground by a passing ride-sharing vehicle that he attempted to stop in its tracks.
No step back
Taxi representatives and regional authorities walked away from the negotiating table late last night after failing to reach an agreement on stricter regulations for VTC (vehicle for hire) licenses, which ride-hailing apps in Spain use to operate.
Madrid taxi drivers want a similar deal to what their Barcelona colleagues have secured from Catalan officials. Under those terms, users of ride-sharing apps would have to book the service one hour in advance.
“The president of the Madrid region is not ready to negotiate, and we are not going to give in,” said Saúl Crespo, a spokesman for a taxi support group called Plataforma Caracol.
In Barcelona, where taxi drivers have been striking since Friday, Uber and Cabify said that they are considering leaving Barcelona if the early booking rule is finally implemented.
Public Works Minister José Luis Abalos said on Wednesday that “it is not good” for any activity to be forced to leave, alluding to these ride-sharing companies. He called for a “balanced” approach that will enable both transportation options to coexist peacefully.
Meanwhile, the taxi strike seems to be helping ride-sharing vehicles attract more clients.
“This week we are getting a lot of work thanks to the taxi drivers’ stoppage,” said Jesús Villegas, a driver who works around Madrid airport. “They are hurting themselves a lot with this protest.”
English version by Susana Urra.