Taxi protest calls for public ride-hailing app as slow drive disrupts traffic in Barcelona

Hundreds of cabs march through city center to reject Uber and Cabify operations

Taxi cars protesting at Plaça Espanya in Barcelona (by Alan Ruíz Terol)
Taxi cars protesting at Plaça Espanya in Barcelona (by Alan Ruíz Terol) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

May 20, 2021 10:17 AM

Taxi drivers in Barcelona took part in a slow drive protest on Thursday morning against Uber and Cabify, the two companies which they see as a threat to the sector, and urge authorities to create a public ride-hailing app. 

Two years after a major standoff involving cabs and the two companies, which ended with the two firms having their services restricted by new regulations, taxi drivers are taking to the streets again to protest against Uber's return to the city, which involves some taxi drivers using the company's software, and what they consider repeated regulation breaches from Cabify drivers.

Taxi unions urged their supporters to meet at 9 am in Avinguda Maria Cristina, an avenue next to Plaça Espanya, with the actual slow ride protest starting at 10 am, taking taxis through the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes avenue, Balmes and Pelai streets, Plaça Catalunya, Fontanella street, and Via Laietana.

Cab drivers parked their vehicles on Via Laietana and walked to Plaça Sant Jaume, where the protest finished in front of the Barcelona city council headquarters.

Tito Álvarez, of Élite Taxi, said he was pleased with the turnout on Thursday, but had not ruled out future demonstrations. "We’ll remain vigilant and resume protests if the calendar is not respected," he said.

In an official statement, taxi unions also announced they would demand a meeting with the mayor of Barcelona, Ada Colau, and the deputy mayor for security, Albert Batlle. "We want to express our outrage at the lack of control of the constant irregularities seen with Cabify’s cars and we’ll stress the need to urgently create a public app to order taxi rides for people in the Barcelona metropolitan area," they said.

On Monday, Uber announced it had reported the unions Élite Taxi and Taxi Project 2.0 to the Agència Catalana de la Competència (ACCO), a public watchdog safeguarding the free market and handling antitrust investigations. 

"For months, we’ve been working to earn taxi drivers’ confidence, and hundreds of them have registered since we launched our new service in March," read a statement by Uber’s director in Spain, Juan Gallardo. "Sadly, the campaign of threats, intimidation, and collective boycott promoted by Élite Taxi and Taxi Project 2.0 scared many of them out and are too afraid to work." 

In response, both unions said they would launch a lawsuit against Uber and Gallardo. "They’re the ones trying to intimidate us into giving up our fight against economic powers," read a statement published on Élite Taxi’s webpage.

The history of Uber in Barcelona

This is yet another event in a long-standing campaign of cabs warring with a company they fear will render them obsolete. 

In January 2019, Barcelona saw six days of unrest that left one of the city’s main avenues blockaded as well as taxi drivers clashing with police and vandalizing ridesharing vehicles

This response came after the Catalan government proposed to pass a law forcing Cabify and Uber users to book their rides at least 15 minutes in advance. Taxi drivers saw it as insufficient and demanded a longer booking period. The protests finally stopped once the Catalan government agreed to extend this time to a 1-hour-minimum advance which pushed Uber and Cabify to stop offering their services in Barcelona. 

Since Uber announced its return to Barcelona on March 16, however, 10,000 people opened the app in just its first two days back. The company also confirmed that half a million of the city’s residents already have the app installed on their phone.