Taxi drivers protest Uber’s arrival in BA City

Omar Viviani calls for ban as company says 5,000 job applications already filed


A group of taxi drivers stage a protest yesterday in Buenos Aires.

Taxi drivers did not wait long to respond to ride-hailing US startup Uber’s announcement about an “imminent” arrival to Buenos Aires.

“They have hired some CEOs to launch it, but they are going to face inconveniences with us because we will not allow it in any way,” taxi drivers’ union boss Omar Viviani said yesterday.

Viviani anticipated that his union will be working with legislators on a bill to block Uber’s arrival, while also arguing that current laws in the city of Buenos Aires already ban any system other than “radiotaxis” to order one.

Yesterday, workers staged a protest in downtown Buenos Aires where Uber was supposed to scout new drivers.

Presidential runner up Daniel Scioli tweeted out a picture of himself with a driver, saying that he wanted to express “solidarity with taxi workers, who told me about their worries in the street.”

Reports yesterday said the BA City government led by Horacio Rodríguez Larreta was already considering banning Uber if it did not adapt to the city’s current laws.

Viviani’s words seem to back those reports, as he said that the national administration of President Mauricio Macri, a close ally of Larreta, also opposes such a move.

The union’s warning came just one day after Uber’s Soledad Lago Rodríguez anticipated that, although no launch date had already been set, the company had already began its hiring process in Buenos Aires city. “We are first trying to get more Argentines interested in the economic opportunities that the company brings,” she said.

Yesterday, Uber’s Communication manager in Latin America Rocío Paniagua told Infobae that 5,000 drivers had registered to work for the company.

Paniagua also argued that legal restrictions on Uber were outdated, as the laws were designed before the changes brought by Internet-based services.

She did not answer whether rumours about the app moving into Mendoza city next were true, but said the company would consider expanding beyond Buenos Aires in the future.

Conflicts around the globe

Uber uses a smartphone app that links users with private chauffeurs. Users are able to track the arrival of the vehicle, which is no different to an ordinary private car, and offer feedback on the quality of the ride.

Uber drivers around the world have faced threats, protests and legal action from regular taxi operators, who say Uber’s cheaper fares and business model are driving them out of business.

Last week, four men torched a car from the ride hailing company in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, on the same day Uber launched its services in Mombasa, Kenya’s second largest city.

It was the second attack against Uber cars in Kenya in two months, after regular cab drivers last month threatened to paralyze transport if the government didn’t ban Uber from Nairobi within seven days. The government refused, but said it was drafting new laws on the regulation of online taxi operators.

Similar incidents have been reported elsewhere across the globe in the last few years, since Uber’s launch in the US in 2009.

The company usually argues that it’s drivers are Uber’s “partners,” but labour representatives have argued this is a way of hiding their status as an employer to dodge the payment of benefits to employees.

Financing expansion

Uber’s arrival to Argentina comes as the ride hailing app company’s Chief Executive Travis Kalanick said it was using its profits in the cities where it’s been more succesful to finance expansion elsewhere.

The company said it was losing more than US$1 billion a year in China’s red-hot ride hailing market, where it is battling large local incumbents to win customers.

“If you took our top 30 cities today, today they’re generating over US$1 billion in profit a year, just our top 30 cities. And that profit multiplies every year because we’re growing,” he said on the sidelines of the Boao Forum in the Chinese island province of Hainan. Other cities among the 400 where Uber operates were also profitable, he added.

“So that helps us to sustainably invest in our Chinese efforts … Because of the profits we have globally, this is something we can do for the long run,” he said last Thursday.

But the company’s strategies are being questioned, as they could be seen as a way of predatory pricing.

Uber has both spent heavily to subsidize fares to gain market share. The company’s market share in China has grown quickly, rising from about one percent to two percent in January 2015 to about 30 percent now, Kalanick said.

China’s transport minister said earlier this month that fare subsidies and the supplementing of driver wages by ride-hailing companies were competitively unfair and unsustainable in the long-term.