A raucous crowd attacked Uber drivers and their vehicles with clubs and stones outside the Mexico City airport, according to the company, as licensed taxi drivers demonstrated to demand a “total halt” to app-based rideshare services in the capital.
Video of the demonstration showed people throwing eggs and flour inside the windows of vehicles, kicking doors and trying to rip off side mirrors. One man destroyed a sedan’s rear window with a large rock.
“What happened is a very grave attack on everyone’s freedom and right to make a living in a dignified manner,” Uber said. “Incidents like this are completely unacceptable and we trust that authorities will act so that justice is done.”
Wednesday’s attack and a taxi drivers’ protest outside the Colombian embassy on Tuesday to proclaim solidarity with cabbies in that country and around the world are a clear signal that newly issued regulations designed to create a legal framework for Uber and the smaller Cabify have not put an end to Mexico City’s simmering taxi dispute.
An Uber spokeswoman, Rocio Paniagua, told Televisa news that between 10 and 12 cars had been damaged in Tuesday’s clashes. Some drivers were struck but there were no reports of serious injuries. She said taxi cabs had been used to block off the street but those who took part were not carrying anything to identify who they were.
At Wednesday’s protest, leaders of the Organised Taxi Drivers of Mexico City union denied any involvement in the “regrettable” incident. They promised to pursue only legal avenues and said the attack had been carried out by people fed up with Uber drivers parking in their neighbourhood for airport pickups.
“They are decisions that the neighbors of the area made but we have nothing to do with it,” said a union spokesman, Juan Carlos Rovira. “We say so categorically.”
This month Mexico City became the first city in Latin America to set down official regulations for smartphone-based ride services such as Uber. They call for the companies to pay 1.5% of fares to a fund for improving transportation; require drivers to register and submit to annual inspections; and bar them from accepting cash or establishing the equivalent of taxi stands.
Cabbies questioned whether Uber drivers may have been breaking that last rule by parking outside the airport. Paniagua said the company’s drivers were not permitted to wait on airport grounds so they stayed in the surrounding streets until customers who summoned rides were in a place where they could be picked up.
Several dozen medallion-cab drivers rallied at the demonstration, setting off firecrackers. They hoisted signs calling rideshare operators “criminals” and criticising the mayor, Miguel Angel Mancera, for letting them operate.
They vowed to continue pushing for the regulations to be repealed or modified until they feel there is a truly level playing field.
“These transnational applications are infiltrating different countries as an economic parasite, endangering the livelihood of thousands of taxi drivers and their families and devouring the market for the legally established service,” said a union official, Ignacio Rodriguez.
Uber is increasingly popular among middle- and upper-class Mexicans as they turn to what they consider a safer, more reliable, more pleasant, convenient and cost-competitive alternative to street cabs.
In a poll, 80% of Mexico City residents surveyed gave Uber positive ratings, compared with 52% for medallion cabs. Just 12% said they backed a ban on Uber.
Francisco Rodriguez Esquivel, a 61-year-old who has been driving a cab for 15 years, said the airport attack was the “unfortunate” but unsurprising result of pent-up frustration.
“I think it’s a logical consequence, that people start to get desperate because these companies continue to work and are probably even laughing at us,” Rodriguez said. “The struggle continues, and it is going to continue until this gets fixed.”