TAXI STRIKE

The political fallout from the taxi strikes in Spain

Parties are exchanging insults and coming up with their own proposals to deal with a problem that shows no signs of going away anytime soon

A taxi driver waves a Spanish flag outside the Popular Party (PP) headquarters in Madrid.
A taxi driver waves a Spanish flag outside the Popular Party (PP) headquarters in Madrid.PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP

As Madrileños woke up on Monday to another day of blocked roads and street protests by angry taxi drivers, regional premier Ángel Garrido said he remains open to a deal following the failed talks of last week.

But the Popular Party (PP) leader also warned that he will not pass legislation to eliminate the taxi sector’s competition, which takes the shape of ride-hailing companies that use VTC (vehicle for hire) licenses to operate, such as Uber and Cabify.

Neither is Garrido willing to emulate the Catalan government, which last week proposed new rules forcing customers to book ride-hailing services 15 minutes in advance, with the possibility of extending this time period to a full hour.

“Garrido resign!” chant taxi drivers at a march in Madrid’s Puerta del Sol.

“The only place that accepts the idea of hiring one hour in advance is that place that has been heading towards the Middle Ages for years now,” he said, alluding to Catalonia. “They are banning hotel construction, they have tourism-phobia; in Catalonia they are separatist and radical,” he said on the Catholic radio network Cope.

A simmering conflict

Last summer, when taxis went on strike in Madrid and Barcelona, the central government issued a decree establishing that regional authorities must set out the rules for coexistence between taxis and ride-hailing services.

But little progress has been made since then. Now, with fresh protests and both local and regional elections coming up in May, political parties are coming up with proposals to solve the problem, while taking a swipe at one another.

Exorbitant licenses

Ramón Muñoz

The number of taxi licenses has remained the same for more than 20 years – 70,000 across Spain (69,972 according to the most recent data from the National Institute of Statistics) – even though the population of Spain has grown by seven million people.

The same thing has happened with VTC licenses. Once the first permits were released (9,366 that are now operative and another 7,000 that recently came out on the market through court orders), the VTC industry association Unauto, which represents 80 businesses including Cabify, Moove and Uber, no longer wants any more to be offered.

The national president of the PP, Pablo Casado, said that the central government – currently run by the Socialist Party (PSOE) – is being “cowardly” for transferring the problem to regional governments. He also promised to bring an initiative to Congress to propose national regulations for the taxi sector.

Casado said that “citizens cannot be held hostage,” and proposed liberalizing the sector and creating a fund to buy back taxi licenses. For years, these licenses have been bought and sold in a closed secondary market where they immediately reach exorbitant prices (see side box), and drivers want to ensure that this value does not go down.

Public Works Minister José Luis Ábalos said that he will address Congress this week as well to explain how his department is handling the conflict. The state secretary for Infrastructure, Transportation and Housing, Pedro Saura, said that “like everywhere else in Europe, urban mobility is up to local and regional administrations.”

Meanwhile, the city of Madrid has dropped its earlier mediation role and now says that it is up to the regional government to “negotiate urgently.”

And the PSOE spokesperson in Congress, Adriana Lastra, is accusing Madrid regional chief Garrido of being unable to “govern over complexity” because of the lack of agreement with the taxi and VTC sectors.

Luis Garicano, an economy official with Ciudadanos, said that a tax on VTC vehicles would help guarantee the money that taxi drivers spent on their licenses, and defended a transitional system toward a more competitive market.

English version by Susana Urra.

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