Is Guatemala the Next Uber Frontier? Taxi Drivers Say ‘Hell No’

Jeff Abbott

A pedestrian checks a mobile device in front of the Uber Technologies Inc. headquarters building in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Wednesday, June 21, 2017. (Photo by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

More than 1,000 taxi dri­vers took to the streets of Guatemala City on June 7 to protest the arrival of the ride-shar­ing app, Uber, to Guatemala. The work­ers blocked bus routes and shut down sec­tions of the his­toric cen­ter of Guatemala City, before they drove to the munic­i­pal build­ing to demand a dialogue.

There real­ly are not a lot of oppor­tu­ni­ties for work here in Guatemala, but I have the chance to work as a taxi dri­ver,” said Car­los Calel, a taxi cab dri­ver in Guatemala City. But Uber has arrived to our coun­try, and they are tak­ing our work by steal­ing our clien­tele with their low­er prices, and they are not pay­ing any taxes.”

Uber began oper­at­ing in Guatemala in Decem­ber 2016. Since Feb­ru­ary, the taxi cab dri­vers of Guatemala have orga­nized to protest the ride-shar­ing app. They are demand­ing that the munic­i­pal­i­ty of Guatemala City ter­mi­nate Uber’s oper­a­tions in Guatemala and put an end to moto-taxis and pirate taxis. They are also call­ing for low­er fees for operations. 

Accord­ing to Rober­to Estra­da, the Pres­i­dent of the Taxi Cab Dri­vers Move­ment, taxi dri­vers are required to pay fees to the munic­i­pal­i­ty of Guatemala City in order to oper­ate with­in the city. These fees are around 330 Quet­za­les, or about 50 U.S. dol­lars a year, and include mon­ey that is paid month­ly and annu­al­ly. The taxi dri­vers also face fees from the munic­i­pal police that reach as high as 500 Quet­za­les, or about 65 U.S. dollars.

But the may­or of Guatemala City, Álvaro Arzú, and mem­bers of the munic­i­pal police, have refused to meet with the drivers.

They are not lis­ten­ing to us,” said Byron, a taxi cab dri­ver who declined to pro­vide his full name out of fear of reper­cus­sions. Arzú has stat­ed that there will not be any sort of meet­ing between us and the munic­i­pal­i­ty. They do not want to dialogue.”

The protests in Guatemala City join the move­ments across the globe against ser­vices such as Uber. Sim­i­lar con­cerns among taxi cab dri­vers have led to protests in Eng­land, France, Spain, Poland, Mex­i­co, Brazil, Cos­ta Rica, Colom­bia, Puer­to Rico and the Unit­ed States.

Estra­da says there are around 25,000 taxi cabs autho­rized to work in Guatemala City, with 10,000 work­ing between a 12 to 16-hour shift daily.

He argues that the loss of clients for dri­vers means that their fam­i­lies be affect­ed, as well as the mechan­ics who pro­vide ser­vices to the dri­vers and the work­ers who paint and main­tain the cars. The entrance of Uber has greater impacts for our jobs and our com­mu­ni­ties,” said Estra­da. The loss of clien­tele impacts our families.”

The taxi dri­vers have raised con­cern that Uber dri­vers are not held to the same stan­dards as taxi dri­vers, and that the com­pa­ny is able to oper­ate with­out the same reg­u­la­tion and require­ments that dri­vers face.

Taxi cab dri­vers autho­rized with the munic­i­pal­i­ty of Guatemala City must receive cours­es, accred­i­ta­tion and spe­cif­ic doc­u­men­ta­tion from the munic­i­pal­i­ty pri­or to work­ing as a taxi cab driver.

Uber dri­vers are not going through the same train­ings that we have to,” said Calel. They are not being held up to the same stan­dards as us.”

Estra­da argues that the munic­i­pal­i­ty is favor­ing Uber by pro­mot­ing the com­pa­ny as an alter­na­tive to the inse­cu­ri­ty in Guatemala City. Taxi cab dri­vers reg­u­lar­ly face extor­tion and vio­lence by gangs.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives for the taxi cab dri­vers state that they will con­tin­ue protest­ing until the munic­i­pal­i­ty respects and responds to their demands. Accord­ing to Estra­da, protests will con­tin­ue to sweep Guatemala City as more dri­vers join the movement.

We are going to shut down the entire cap­i­tal, all car­di­nal points,” said Estra­da. We will keep going until the munic­i­pal­i­ty will lis­ten to us. We can­not let them take our means of sup­port­ing our families.” 

Jeff Abbott is an inde­pen­dent jour­nal­ist cur­rent­ly based out of Guatemala. He has cov­ered human rights, social moments, and issues relat­ed to edu­ca­tion, immi­gra­tion, and land in the Unit­ed States, Mex­i­co, and Guatemala. He has writ­ten for the North Amer­i­can Con­gress on Latin Amer­i­ca, Wagin​non​vi​o​lence​.org, and Upside​down​world​.org. Fol­low him on twit­ter @palabrasdeabajo
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