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Barcelona taxi drivers on indefinite strike

Private companies such as Uber and Cabify deemed as threat by cabbies

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28 July 2018 10:53 AM

by

Alex Rolandi | Barcelona

Travel disruption in Barcelona and the metropolitan area is set to continue after taxi drivers have gone on strike indefinitely. What was a threat on Friday, when the stoppage was expected to come to an end, has become reality.

For a second night on Saturday, drivers camped out in the city occupying more than three kilometres of Gran Via, one of the capital's major roads. According to local police figures, around 1,600 taxis filled the road. 

The move came in response to Spain's high court of justice in Catalonia announcing that it would maintain the suspension of local regulation limiting the number of licences for car-hailing services. Taxi drivers claim that this puts their jobs in danger.

Moments of chaos in some of the Catalan capital’s streets have become familiar over the last few days. Many travellers seeking to travel around, or in and out, of the city in a cab have had to seek other means of transport such as the bus, or train.

Shut down

On Friday, taxi drivers shut down Gran Via, one of Barcelona’s main roads that traverses the city from north-west to south-east. A road many visitors to the city will be familiar with. The drivers have agreed to leave their cars parked there in protest.

Their demands are simple enough. They believe the High Court of Justice’s ruling to maintain the suspension of a new law limiting the number of VTC licences. These are used by drivers for companies like Uber and Cabify. The old-school yellow and black Barcelona cabbies are striking because, for them, the unlimited issuing of said licences is unfair competition. They see the likes of Uber and Cabify as a threat. 

History

For taxi drivers, this is a momentous occasion. For people in need of getting from A to B beyond public transport, not so much.

“This is the second 15-M,” said Alberto Álvarez, spokesman of the union Elite Taxi. He referred to the occupy movement in Catalonia that began with a protest on May 15 (15-M) in 2011, when civil unrest swept across much of the globe. While the Arab spring was in full-swing, anti-capitalist protesters in many Western countries also took to the streets. Catalonia, and Spain as a whole, were no different. Barcelona’s emblematic Plaça Catalunya was filled with tents, occupied by those who would not budge for their beliefs till the police finally came rolling in. Much like the occupy movement, albeit for different reasons, taxi drivers have made their presence known in Barcelona.

Violence in the streets

The strike began on July 25, originally due to last for 48 hours. During the first two days, taxi drivers protested in the heart of Barcelona as well as driving in a slow procession from the airport taking up a lane in one of the main motorways leading into the city. Around 2,000 drivers participated. 

Uber and Cabify cars became the targets of aggressions. One of the most serious incidents involved more than a dozen strikers kicking and hitting a car carrying a family of French tourists. The video of the attack soon went viral sparking cyber-rage in the interweb. Incidents of violence were isolated – a minority of all the drivers involved venting their frustration in that all-to-familiar way of fists first, fink later. Private cab services temporarily suspended their services for safety reasons. 

Unauto, an association representing ride-hailing companies in Spain, said that the suspension of services by Uber and Cabify should be “a matter of reflection,” and accused the city council of Barcelona and the Spanish government of “giving in to blackmail.”

Uber and Cabify resumed their services on the morning of July 27, the same day the strike was set to end before it was once again called into effect. 

Strike spreading

Later on Saturday, taxi drivers in Madrid also decided to join the industrial action set in motion by the sector in Barcelona. The Professional Taxi Federation of Madrid (FPTM) made a statement saying that a spontaneous mobilization had taken place in the Spanish capital, with cab drivers cutting off access to the city's Adolfo Suárez-Madrid Barajas airport as well as its principal train station Atocha. The organization called for support for the protest that began in Barcelona this week. The FTPM president Julio Sanz said that, with regard to the duration of the 

Second night of camping and occupation of more than three kilometers of the Gran Via of Barcelona. The taxi drivers keep the indefinite strike even though they have already been summoned to meet on Monday at 2:00 p.m. with the Secretary of State for Public Works. Its priority is to "shield urban licensing" in order to carry out its work, leaving behind the conflict of powers between administrations, a debate that has also arisen in the last few hours.

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  • A Barcelona taxi off duty, on strike (Nazaret Romero)

  • A Barcelona taxi off duty, on strike (Nazaret Romero)