Uber protest reignites in Mexico

Crowd smashes cars suspected of queuing up near airport

Street taxi drivers protest against the smartphone-based ride service Uber in Mexico City last week. The Mexican taxi drivers’ union called for a protest against unlicensed and Uber taxis working in the city.

MEXICO CITY -- A crowd attacked Uber drivers and their vehicles with clubs and stones outside the Mexico City airport, the company said last week, as licensed taxi drivers demonstrated to demand a "total halt" to app-based ride-sharing services in the capital.

Video of the attack 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 in a statement. "Incidents like this are completely unacceptable, and we trust that authorities will act so that justice is done."

The assault and the taxi drivers' demonstration outside the Colombian Embassy to proclaim solidarity with cabbies in that country and around the world are a signal that recently issued regulations designed to create a legal framework for Uber and the smaller Cabify have not put an end to Mexico City's taxi dispute.

Uber spokesman Rocio Paniagua told Televisa news that between 10 and 12 cars were damaged in the attack Tuesday. Some drivers were struck, but there were no reports of serious injuries.

She said taxicabs were used to block off the street, but those who took part were not displaying anything to identify who they were.

At a Wednesday protest, leaders of the Organized Taxi Drivers of Mexico City union denied any involvement in the "regrettable" incident. They promised to pursue only legal avenues and said the attack was carried out by people fed up with Uber drivers parking in their neighborhood for airport pickups.

"They are decisions that the neighbors of the area made, but we have nothing to do with it," union spokesman Juan Carlos Rovira said. "We say so categorically."

Last month, Mexico City became the first city in Latin America to set down official regulations for smartphone-based ride services like Uber.

They call for the companies to pay 1.5 percent 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 are not permitted to wait on airport grounds, so they stay in the surrounding streets until customers who summoned rides are in a place where they can be picked up.

Several dozen medallion-cab drivers rallied at the demonstration, setting off firecrackers. They hoisted signs calling ride-sharing operators "criminals" and criticizing 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," union official Ignacio Rodriguez said.

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 recent poll, 80 percent of Mexico City residents surveyed gave Uber positive ratings, compared with 52 percent for medallion cabs. Just 12 percent 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."

SundayMonday Business on 08/03/2015