Traffic ground to a halt in the centres of Barcelona and Madrid when taxi drivers strike protested over the presence of car-pooling agencies operating in Europe. At least 4,000 cabbies joined the demonstration in Barcelona, some of whom suffered physical violence and vandalism through road rage when they blocked the most heavily-frequented streets and squares including the Plaza de Catalunya and the Plaça de Sant Jaume, and the Sants railway station.
In Madrid several thousand taxis joined a nose-to-tail ‘march’ blasting their horns all the way along the Paseo de la Castellana, the city’s main business district. In both cities, travelling by road was practically impossible. Cabbies across the country are up in arms over the presence in the market of car-pooling agencies, which are unregulated.
The main ones, Über in the USA and BlaBlaCar in France, operate in over 115 cities throughout Europe and the United States, and insist on certain minimum criteria for drivers – including a clean licence, mechanically-sound vehicles and sufficient insurance to cover injuries or loss to passengers.
The European Commission has refused to outlaw these agencies, saying taxi drivers are merely trying to protect their monopoly by shutting other companies out of their field, and Über itself has said the protests are ‘out of proportion’ and ‘just a tactic to close the doors to new alternatives for the consumer and maintain an immobile state’. Catalunya, however, has already mentioned plans to ban Über and BlaBlaCar from operating in its towns and cities, despite the companies being fully ‘legal’ and given the seal of approval by the European Commission.
A recent change to Spanish legislation now means anyone who offers lifts for a profit can be fined between 4,000 and 18,000 euros, and the passengers can also be forced to cough up between 400 and 600 euros for using the service. After a flood of panicked questions from members of the public when details of the new rules hit the headlines, the government clarified that this would not be the case where work colleagues share car-space to get to the office or friends and neighbours give each other a lift as a favour. Taxi protests also took place in Paris, Berlin, London, Milan and Naples.