Barcelona is always quieter in August, as local business shut down and residents take their holidays up the coast. However, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region has been especially silent over the last week—and that silence has spread across the country.
A taxi strike began in Barcelona last week after a regional judge rejected local rules that would have limited the number of licenses for cars from ride-hailing services like Uber and Cabify.
The strike spread, and over the weekend taxi drivers in Madrid, Seville, Valencia, Alicante, Málaga, Zaragoza and La Rioja began to turn off their engines in solidarity.
Not only are the drivers not offering rides but they have been blocking major avenues such as the Gran Via in Barcelona and the Paseo de la Castellana in Madrid by parking their taxis mid lane to stop traffic flow, with some drivers even spending the night in tents beside their vehicles.
The drivers are protesting over what they consider unfair competition generated by Uber and Cabify (a local ride-hailing service). Such entities operate under so-called VTC licenses — designed for chauffeured rental vehicles — which taxi drivers say should be restricted in number. Currently, one VTC license can be awarded for every 30 taxi licenses, but taxi drivers say that in major cities the ratio is closer to 1:6.
Uber has faced hostility across Europe. France fined Uber for running an illegal transport service in 2016. And in Spain, the company’s UberPop service, with non-professional drivers, was driven off in 2014 amid legal challenges and pushback from the taxi industry. Uber returned in 2016 with its professional chauffeur service, but now taxi drivers say that ride-hailing services have gotten around the legal limits.
On Monday, Pedro Saura, Spain’s state secretary for infrastructure, transportation and housing, met with the country’s main taxi associations – Fedetaxi, Élite Taxi and Antaxi. The Monday talks failed to solve to the chaos, however, as taxi representatives said the government offer did not go far enough; it is hoped that a second round of meetings between the government and taxi representatives Tuesday afternoon will provide some relief to the situation.
Not surprisingly, ride-hailing drivers do not want new regulations.
Speaking on Monday, Eduardo Martín, president of Unauto, which represents VTC interests, told Spanish newspaper El País, “Tomorrow we’re going to ask the government not to yield to the blackmail, because we cannot renounce competition, because competition is good. And blackmail is no good.”
Frustrated locals and holidaymakers alike — finding themselves in the scorching sun, unable to get around Spanish cities easily at the peak of tourist season — will be waiting to hear whether or not taxi sector assemblies decide to call off the strikes following Tuesday’s negotiations.