In the recent Mobile World Congress, glossy transportation technology was everywhere, from connected and autonomous cars to 5G ambulances.
But the reality outside the room was less shiny. In the streets of Barcelona, participants in the MWC19 had to deal with a metro strike, traffic jams, errors with tickets and a protest by drivers from Uber and Cabify.
Both companies had left the city earlier in February, after several weeks of conflicts with traditional taxi drivers, resulting in a Catalan government decree requiring cars to be rented 15 minutes in advance and forbidding cars to be geolocated. and looking for customers around the city.
Cabify now says it will operate again in Barcelona "after it has adjusted its model to the restrictions imposed by the Catalan government", and returns with a fleet of 300 vehicles "in a first phase".
But according to Unauto, an association of professional drivers with licenses for passenger transport (VTC) that cover journey services, there are around 15,000 holders of a VTC in Spain, with around 3,000 in Catalonia before the decree was approved.
One of the driving forces behind the 10,500 conventional taxis in the city, Felipe Ausin, says that VTCs have always been there. But he believes that the Spanish law establishing a ratio of one VTC for 30 taxis has not been respected by having Uber and Cabify cars operate.
What is crazy about drivers like him is that a taxi license costs the same as buying a house: € 120,000 or $ 136,000. That investment takes time to recover, hence the hostility towards Uber and Cabify drivers who do not have to pay that premium.
SEE: Tech and the future of transport (special ZDNet report) Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)
José Yañez, a 54-year-old taxi driver with 33 years of experience, believes that "drivers with a VTC license occupy a space that does not belong to them because they offer the same service as a taxi without paying the same license".
He also emphasizes that self-employed drivers like him cannot compete with large companies such as Uber or Cabify, so he is happy with the new decree.
Uber's Spanish spokesperson, Yuri Fernández, argues that the obligation to wait 15 minutes to travel in a VTC does not exist anywhere else in Europe and is completely incompatible with the immediacy of on-demand services such as UberX.
"The future of mobility is choosing," he says, and is the key to developing a sustainable mobility strategy with fewer vehicles in the streets.
To achieve this, all stakeholders must work together, says Fernández. "Uber and the taxi industry are working together, it may sound strange, but it is not, we are already doing it in different cities around the world and we want to do it in Spain."
In Madrid, the regulation that seeks to regulate the activity of rhythm services in the city is still being discussed. The proposal that most concerns Uber and Cabify drivers is a limitation of the mileage they can do without a passenger in the vehicle.
They claim that it would be unfair to apply such restrictions when they are issued by the Madrid City Council. This shows that a conventional taxi drives around 208 km a day in the city, 113.6 km without a driver (129 miles and 70.6 miles).
SEE: The new commute: how unmanned cars, hyper-runs and drones will change our travel plans (TechRepublic cover story) | Download the PDF version
Meanwhile, millennials and generation Z users don't understand why their cheap options are limited. Laura and Inès, respectively 18 and 24 years old, both students in Barcelona and users of Uber and Cabify, were destroyed when both companies left the city.
They know that the conventional taxi sector has also developed applications to order vehicles via their telephones, but they still prefer the alternatives to sharing economy.
"The vehicles are cleaner and they take you where you want to go without unnecessary detours," says Inès, who is doing a master's degree in international law.
In the end, protests from both sides are probably useless, given what was going on at the MWC19 location. Technology change is unstoppable and also opens up new possibilities, such as cooperative zip heart apps based on blockchain or non-profit rideshare.
Whatever the future holds, taxi driver José Yañez just wants to keep driving in his car: "You know, I don't think the autonomous car will take over the streets tomorrow."
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