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Spanish taxis go on strike against Uber, Cabify

Thousands of Spanish taxis went on strike in Madrid and Barcelona on Tuesday to protest against ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Cabify.

In the seaside city of Barcelona, a draw for tourists, taxi drivers stopped work for a full 24 hours while those in the Spanish capital went on strike for 12 hours and protested in the streets.

At Madrid’s main Atocha train station, they let off firecrackers and shouted “taxis united, never defeated” while hapless travellers stood by.

Jara and her mother Isabel had just come back from a trip and were going to take public transport instead of a planned cab.

“It’s going to take one hour for a trip that would take 10 minutes in a taxi,” said Jara, adding she had used Uber before and criticising taxis, which she said were “really expensive”.

Taxi drivers complain that Uber-type services are endangering their jobs and that ride-hailing companies are not implementing existing rules.

Spanish regulations stipulate there should be a quota of one licensed vehicle from companies like US-based Uber or Spain’s Cabify for every 30 taxis.

But taxis counter the quota is currently one for seven taxis, prompting Spain’s transport ministry to pledge to work towards implementing the rule.

– 16-hour days –

Uber does not employ drivers or own vehicles, but instead relies on private contractors with their own cars, allowing them to run their own businesses.

It claims it is a service provider, connecting passengers with these freelance drivers directly and cheaply.

But critics and competitors around the world say this allows it to dodge costly regulations such as stringent licensing requirements for taxi drivers, who undergo hundreds of hours of training.

“We’re getting less business, and we have to work way more hours,” said David Parrilla, a protesting taxi driver who said he had paid 150,000 euros ($170,000) for a licence in Madrid, where there are some 15,700 taxis.

He added that he and his wife now take turns driving the cab 16 hours a day to make enough money.

Uber has had a tough ride in Spain, where it was forced out of the country in 2014 by legal pressure and taxi protests.

A Spanish judge ruled in December 2014 that Uber risked breaking the law with its UberPop service that enabled unregulated drivers to drive for money using their own cars.

The US company is now operating a limited a version of its UberX service that uses licensed, professional drivers instead of amateurs.