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Like Uber But for Protests: Rideshare Drivers Targeted in Mexico City
Protests against Uber in Mexico City got violent this week, just days before the implementation of new regulations for the controversial ridesharing app.
The protesters in Mexico City hurled flour, eggs, and rocks, but their targets weren’t the local police, who are often accused of corruption, or military personnel linked to human rights abuses. Instead, the attack was aimed at the Uber drivers that licensed Mexican taxi drivers see as an illegal threat to their livelihoods.
Video footage of this week’s attacks shows Uber drivers swerving to avoid the protesters, who smashed their windows with bricks and tried to rip off their cars’ side mirrors.
Ongoing protests against Uber in Mexico are just the latest in a series of international woes for the rideshare company, which allows users to order rides through a smartphone app linked to their credit card. Taxi drivers in multiple countries have complained that they need to go through rigorous and sometimes expensive licensing procedures while Uber drivers can basically be anyone with a car.
New regulations made official in Mexico City Thursday make it the first Latin American metropolis to set legal parameters for the smartphone rideshare app, charging Uber a 1.5% levy to be put into a fund designated for improving transportation in the city. Uber has also agreed to pay an annual permit fee to continue its services there and an additional fee for each new car registered in the platform. And drivers are prohibited from setting up the equivalent of taxi stands in the city.
Lorena Villarreal, the Latin American communications manager for Uber, told Foreign Policy Thursday that Uber hopes other cities in Latin America will follow Mexico City’s lead. “We are very proud of Mexico City for being an example so that we can actually work with the government for regulation that benefits all the citizens,” she said.
As for the attacks on cars outside the airport Tuesday and protests in the city Wednesday, Villarreal said Uber considers them to be isolated incidents. Even if some drivers are protesting the ridesharing service’s presence in Mexico, she said many are actually protesting in solidarity with cab drivers in Colombia, who have blocked off streets in Bogota in protest of Uber this week.
According to Villarreal, Uber already has more than 500,000 users in Mexico City, and last month alone drivers worked a combined total of around 1 million hours.
Drivers whose cars were damaged in Tuesday’s attacks will rely on their mandatory insurance to repair their vehicles, although Villarreal said Uber will offer legal assistance and help the drivers if their insurance companies refuse to cover the damage.
“We do not tolerate violence in any way, and we encourage our drivers not to engage in any violence if they are provoked,” she said.
But unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday, which also included some peaceful protests by taxi drivers, is an indication that despite these increased regulations, Mexican cabbies and their supporters are still unhappy about Uber’s infiltration into their ride market, which has lured away growing numbers of middle- and upper-class passengers.
These built-up frustrations are not limited to Mexico. Since Uber’s launch in 2009 and the company’s eventual expansion into more than 200 cities around the world, cab drivers in various countries have protested the company’s entrance into a market that has gone unrivaled for years, disrupting cab drivers’ reliable incomes in what French protesters have called “economic terrorism.” The company, which is based in San Francisco, is thought to be worth $40 billion. But it is not without its challenges: Local drivers everywhere from the United States to Europe, China, and Southeast Asia have called for legal changes, designed to protect licensed taxi drivers from losing their livelihood.
France: In France, taxi drivers have repeatedly staged protests — burning tires, attacking drivers thought to be working for Uber, and blocking roads in Paris and a number of other major cities. In July, Uber announced it would suspend some of its services in France to protect drivers from the frequent attacks, which reportedly damaged more than 70 cars and injured multiple French police officers.
England: In London, drivers of London’s historic black cabs have launched multiple protests against the company. In June, they plastered taxis and billboard vans with images of an Uber executive, British Prime Minister David Cameron, and Chancellor George Osborne holding up signs claiming Uber does not pay taxes in the United Kingdom. Uber has denied claims that the company does not pay taxes.
Germany: In March, after repeated protests by taxi drivers, a German court banned certain Uber services that allowed unlicensed taxi drivers to transport customers in their private cars. Uber is still operating in the country, but only using certain services that they claim abide by German law.
Brazil: Just last week, more than a thousand taxi drivers in Rio de Janeiro blocked streets and halted morning rush-hour traffic to protest the company. In the city of São Paulo, lawmakers have already approved legislation to ban Uber services, although it is waiting executive approval. As a response to the protest, Uber offered passengers special deals on free rides that day and launched the hashtag #RIONAOPARA, or “Rio doesn’t stop.” Villarreal told FP Uber is actively working with the Brazilian government and the local government in Rio to try to implement new regulations.
China: In June, massive protests erupted in multiple cities, where taxi drivers lashed out against Uber and other locally run rideshare apps, which they claim are destroying their long-standing business. Uber drivers there were instructed by the company not to retaliate against the protestors, and despite raids on some Uber offices there, Chinese authorities have still not banned the services.
Photo credit: YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images