Back to the reality of EU neo-liberalism, whose motto is “Never let a good crisis go to waste”. The regional government in Madrid is only implementing EU policy.
Carlos Rodríguez, community manager at Elite Taxi Association Barcelona, writes on the right-wing PP’s attempts to de-regulate the taxi sector in Madrid City Council, intensifying the crisis for taxi drivers in the Spanish capital already suffering amidst the pandemic.
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
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This series of articles concerning the Gig Economy in the EU was made possible thanks to the generous support of the Lipman-Miliband Trust
In Madrid, they are killing the taxi sector. It sounds crude but sadly the reality is like that. The Madrid City Council, taking advantage of the pandemic, intends to bleed the taxi sector in the capital of the Spanish state to favour the interests of big companies; Uber and Cabify, among others.
According to the INE (National Institute of Statistics), Madrid received 48,123 international passengers in September, 92.8% fewer than in 2019. Tourism is vital for taxis in Madrid, so this logically translates into thousands and thousands of lost services for a transport service that has requested six times to meet with the Mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez Almeida, to reach a regulation agreement adjusting the supply to the demand, that is, establishing more shifts to reduce the fleet and get all the taxis allowed in normal circumstances off the streets at the same time.
A petition has been advanced by the Professional Taxi Federation of Madrid, the majority association and which, according to them, is supported by 90% of the taxi drivers who make up the group in Madrid.
For the taxi drivers, this over-supply situation seriously damages their health and their economy as they have to wait longer to get work, often working the maximum 16 hours a day, as permitted by law. In order not to be circulating empty, the great majority of taxi drivers wait at the stops to the point of having to exceed the space available for parking, being on many occasions fined by the municipal police as a consequence.
Despite requests from the sector to take these measures to reduce supply, the Mayor still does not want to meet with taxi representatives and does not listen to their requests.
On the other hand, in an official act in April in which Juan Galiardo, responsible for Uber in Southern Europe, was present, the Town Hall finalised a modification in point 4 of the Municipal Taxi Ordinance of Madrid 74/2005 (the law that regulates the activity of the taxi service at a municipal level) so that companies can buy taxi licences, something that is not allowed and that a priori would be the entrance door to big companies like Uber to be able to take control of a public service.
These are not new intentions. Manuela Carmena, the previous mayor who lost the elections in the Madrid City Council, had an ordinance that forced the VTCs to rest on weekends, given the problem that there is in Madrid where they exceed the number of vehicles (1 VTC for every 30 taxis, which means there should be 1500 VTCs and there are 8000). After the elections, the new PP councillor for mobility in the town hall, Borja Carabante, already said upon coming to power that he would not apply these rules for the VTCs, but would remove the restrictions to work the taxi (16 hours per day, 5 days a week). In other words, he was going to adjust the activity of the taxi to the model of Uber and Cabify.
Apart from this, in the last meeting held with this Councillor, by the taxi associations in October in response to the request for regulation of the fleet, Carabante has even stated that the fall in tourism is not something that affects the taxi sector, despite the data from the INE and the Ministry of Tourism.
It should be noted that this is not the first time that the right wing in Madrid has tried to implement this strategy to favour large companies. In the Community of Madrid, Ángel Garrido, former president of the PP (conservative right wing) and currently responsible for Transport for ‘Citizens’ (liberal right wing), has tried to modify Law 20/1998 (which regulates taxi activity in the whole Community of Madrid) to permit the legal entry of companies such as Uber.
Unlike the City Council, the Community has already had this modification for a year and it has not yet been possible to implement it because the associations Taxi Project and the previously mentioned Professional Federation have denounced this change by means of a contentious-administrative procedure, which is currently waiting to be resolved in the Courts.
In short, reading this story one can conclude that the objective of the right wing in Madrid, and for some years now, has been to favour the entry of companies such as Uber and Cabify into the taxi sector as licence holders.
As can be seen, since the Community of Madrid has not yet achieved this, the City Council is trying to do so, either by adjusting the business model or by encouraging the entry of large companies into the public sector.
This is a sector that been working at a loss for months and without any kind of support measures from the City Council, a City Council which has plenty of time to re-write legislation to allow large companies to enter the sector.
These are large companies that arrive with strong financial backers, as we have already seen with Uber (Softbank, Microsoft, Toyota, Goldman Sachs), and that could take advantage of a foreseeable fall in taxi licence prices due to the pandemic (and affected by the lack of regulation by the Town Hall) to buy a large number of licences from self-employed drivers below their real value.
Similarly, we are also seeing how both Cabify and Uber have begun strong campaigns to attract taxi drivers, with news (of dubious veracity) about a large number of taxi drivers joining their applications. There has even been an interview with Uber’s head of Southern Europe, Galiardo, in the programme “Horas de Taxi”, a leading space for the taxi sector for decades.
And this is how a public service is dismantled. With the complicity of the authorities and the media. A situation that would seriously affect the work of taxi drivers and the rights of users, moving from a public, professional, protected and regulated sector to one where the conditions of both prices and users’ rights would be set by Uber.
This is a situation that we have been studying for months at Taxi Project and about which we will soon be taking legal measures.