An opportunity to grow or a ‘tsunami’ that will overwhelm the union?

The taxi navigates in a constant Bermuda Triangle from which it seems that it will never leave. The guild went from fighting with the motorcycles that invaded his lane to face new business models willing to break the armor of a sector that has hardly changed in the last half century. If almost nine years ago, in April 2014, it was the arrival of Uber in Barcelonaand the corresponding irruption of the VTC, now the enemy intuits it in their own dining room, in the form of mediation platforms that make use of the rate 3which allows the traveler to be offered a closed invoice based on the kilometers traveled and the corresponding accessories. According to the taxi drivers, signatures like Free Now they cheat with the calculation and add illegal bonuses, an accusation that the company denies. But it is a bit unimportant, because what taxi drivers fear is that it will end up generating a monopolysomething that, in the long term, could mean, they warn, controlled of marketingschedules and conditions of service.

Today There are 20 mediation companies registered in the Metropolitan Taxi Institute (Imet). A spokesperson for this body assures that they have requested from each platform the number of taxi drivers with which they work to to be able to x-ray the matter. industry associations calculate that about 35% of the fleet is affiliated to any of these companies, especially Free Now, which could have between 2,000 and 3,000 drivers only in barcelona A figure that the company does not confirm “by company policy”.

short term

It is inevitable, if they are so harmful, to wonder why there are so many colleagues who join what, theoretically, is their enemy. There is no single answer. It is, surely, a sum of many factors. The first, the lack of perspective, the short term. The second, the attraction of ally with an important name that has a good portfolio of clients, with an application that many tourists have downloaded on their phone. The third, because the trade associations themselves have their own brokerage company. And the fourth, the pure survival.

Most companies charge the taxi driver a monthly fee between 180 and 250 euros. Free Now, instead, pulls out a percentage of each race carried out by the driver, a practice that is repeated in the 10 European countries in which it operates. In the case of Spain, a 12.5% ​​plus VATconfirm to this newspaper Isabel García Frontera, General Director of Free Now Spain.

Louis Berbelpresident of the Taxi Union of Catalonia, fears that in the long run, if their presence in the union continues to grow, they will end up claiming 25%. “we can finish become slaves to these platforms“, he predicts. That is why the associations have demanded that the Department of Territory limit the number of cars with which a single platform can operate. In their letter to the Three Wise Men they request that are not more than 15% of the total. It would be just over 2,000 licenses.

Plus for high demand

Since 2021, Free Now applies to its customers a “service charge for the use of the platform“. It does so both in Barcelona and in the rest of the cities in which it operates. The Imet sent a request to the company in August 2022 reminding it of the current rates, which are the ones that set the legal limit on what can be and travelers cannot be charged, and urging them to abolish this extraordinary payment.

The general director of the company maintains that it is not about any intervention in the rate, and that in any case, it is the cost for a “technological intermediation service“That is, it is about the relationship between the user and the ‘app’ regardless of the service provided by the taxi driver. They have presented a contentious-administrative and for now they have stopped charging that bonus. The courts must deliberate to what extent one thing can be separated from the other.

Regarding the relationship with the sector, García Frontera points out that in recent years, the company “has had two and three-digit growth in the city, both in associated taxi drivers and in passengers and journeys made.” “This shows -he continues- that despite the pressures against our platform, the most taxi drivers consider Free Now as a necessary tool in their day to day”.

The taxi associations, for their part, are in full negotiation with Territori to try to clip the wings of any platform that wants, as they say, intends to ‘uberize’ the collective. It can be said that things are on the right track, since the taxi drivers canceled the four days of strike that they had planned for the end of the month, coinciding with the ise fair, the largest on the planet in audiovisual matters. On January 18, the Government announced a package of measures to try to temper the mood: more sanctions for those who do not comply with the rate and a new decree to regulate mediation companies. He said it, however, the same day that the ‘conselleria’ confessed that Barcelona maintains more than 1,000 VTC licenses active which were considered extinct on December 31. Gasoline in the taxi bonfire.

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Now the guild has had its eye, as every year, on the Mobile World Congress (late January). A month of negotiations begins that will depend, in part, on what happens in Parliament with the budgets of the Generalitat for this 2023. According to Tito Alvarezspokesperson for Elite TaxiTerritori has promised to include in the Budget Accompaniment Law the prohibition of abusive discounts and supplements, which would further shield rates already restricted by Imet itself, an entity that depends on the Barcelona Metropolitan Area (AMB). This would open the door to new sanctions, in this case, by the Government. The taxi drivers assure that Territori has also promised them to promote the figure of the taxi operator associated with these platforms. In this way, they would need express permission from the ‘department’ and would have to pay taxes and have their registered office here.

While all this is happening, the public application to request a taxi, known as Picmi, is still not in the majority, and the VTCs maintain their legal pulse against the decrees that guillotine their activity in Catalonia. The employer’s license for vehicle rental with driverIn fact, it has called strikes and slow marches for February 6, 7 and 8. It is what the taxi fight has, that when a door closes, a window opens.