Skip to Content

Uber Retreats from Barcelona after City Imposes Time Restrictions

Uber said Thursday that it would suspend its service in Barcelona.

It follows a ruling from the regional Catalan government that there has to be a 15-minute delay between a passenger booking a call and being picked up. This naturally dents one of the major commercial advantages of ride-hailing apps: speed.

“The new restrictions approved by the Catalan government leave us with no choice but to suspend UberX while we assess our future in Barcelona,” Uber said in a statement.

The Catalan government’s decision follows mass protests from taxi drivers around Spain who have campaigned fiercely against the incursion of ride-sharing and ride-hailing services, conducting strikes in both Barcelona and Madrid.

Along with Uber, the decision also affects Spain’s Cabify, which claims to have over a million users in Barcelona—out of a total population of 1.6 million.

This isn’t the first time that Uber has run into trouble in Spain. The firm’s first foray into the country didn’t last long, because it tried to offer its service through any driver, much as it operates in the U.S.

Spanish courts ruled that private drivers without a taxi license or a so-called car rental with driver (VTC in Spanish) license could not offer commercial driving services. A higher European court agreed in 2017.

The Spanish-founded competitor, Cabify, already offered services with commercially licensed drivers and when Uber returned last year, it followed their lead.

Now, both companies say they will not do business in Barcelona as long as the 15-minute delay remains in place. This matters because the companies employ 3,500 drivers in the city, many of whom who will be put out of work. Uber also issued a statement to users in which it said that the 15-minute wait time doesn’t exist anywhere in Europe and is totally incompatible with its on-demand service model (story in El País in Spanish).

There is one bright Spanish note for Uber, however: authorities in Madrid Thursday rejected taxi drivers’ demands for an hour-long booking delay or a minimum 5-km (3-mile) journey for VTC license holders.

Meanwhile, Madrileños have discovered an unexpected bonus from the taxi strikes: less traffic.