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Taxi Or Uber: The Fight For Riders In Latin America

Longstanding service and high-tech newcomer in fierce battle for business.

Smartphones have changed the world in virtually every way, something that taxi drivers are both highly aware of and very unhappy about.

Although there are other options in the market, Uber has positioned itself as the leading provider of private transportation through mobile apps globally. It arrived in Latin America in 2013, and since then, the taxi business has consistently classified the newcomer as unfair competition.

“We stand against Uber and other applications because the company did not have to pay concessions like us. They evade the taxes that the union has to pay to the Office of Treasury,” said Ramiro Martínez Sánchez, licensee of taxi plates in the port of Veracruz. “Furthermore, Uber drivers do not need a special license like ours. We are talking about unfair competition however anyone sees it.”

Uber’s presence in Latin America has been a powerful hit to taxis’ popularity. The app has maintained the top option for private transportation, despite having competition from such services as inDriver, DiDi, and, recently, Tesla’s Beat, which entered the Mexican market with several electric cars.

Uber is typically ranked as the most popular ride-sharing app in the world. (Dan Gold Karzusymfra/Unsplash)

Thanks to Uber’s reputation as a provider of comfortable and secure private transportation, taxis all across Latin America have been losing clients. For years, customers have complained that taxi drivers play loud music, use dilapidated vehicles lacking air conditioning and over-charge for fares.

“Yes, I will be the first to admit that some colleagues do raise their rates, but that is what happens when gasoline continues to get more and more expensive,” said Martínez Sánchez. “It is not in our hands because those who have taxi plates have to pay a special tax to drive, as it is one of the government mandates to which they have to comply.”

On the other hand, many users prefer Uber to regular taxis because drivers and passengers have to register in a database and can pay via debit or credit cards.

Due to pressure from the taxi driver’s union, some governments, such as Colombia’s, have prohibited Uber from operating in their country. However, both Uber drivers and users defend the platform, the former because of the economic benefit they obtain, the latter due to the comfort and security that the app seeks to provide.

“I have been an Uber driver for 3 years. I became one because I had lost my job,” said Jacob Domínguez, 38, a driver in Mexico City. “It went extremely well, and so I stayed. Due to the pandemic, the company gave us further indications to take care of ourselves and our customers better. I thank God that I have had a way to take care of me and mine.”

Many people consider Uber to be safer than regular taxis, since drivers have to register themselves in a database and third parties can follow the passengers’ travel route through the mobile app. (Priscilla Du Preez/Unsplash)

An argument used by Latin American taxi unions is that Uber does not provide legal benefits to its drivers because the American company considers them independent contractors, not employees.

“There are things that we lack, sure, such as many legal benefits that other companies would give us, but at least I have an income, which is what matters the most to me. With the uncertainty that the pandemic brought to the world, having a way to make money is what matters the most,” said Domínguez.

Uber also offers a suitable option for women seeking to feel safe while riding from one place to the other — especially in Mexico City, due to its high rate of femicides. Currently, the app allows users to record audio during their transfers, a plus for women who wish to feel safe.

“Sure, I know that it is not much, but it gives me a feeling of safety, as I know the driver’s name, their license plates, the car model, and I can share all that with my friends at any given time,” said Tamara Rojas, an app user in Mexico City.

In 2017, there was a wave of sexual harassment accusations against Uber drivers in Latin America, to which the company answered by including more female drivers.

In Latin America, Uber is available in Mexico, Bolivia, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic, Uruguay, and Brazil.

(Translated and edited by Mario Vázquez; edited by Matthew B. Hall)

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