Competition is exactly what taxi drivers don't want (photo via La Nación).

Picture this: It was the first day of Festival Bue on Friday. The location? Tecnopolis. A huge structure located a stone’s throw away from the City Buenos Aires limits, around a 20-25 minute drive from Palermo. Getting there was relatively easy, a train ride followed by a short hike. 

After seeing Iggy Pop blow Argentine socks off with an epic eight-song encore, followed by a rum-infused boogie to Toots and the Maytals, the sweat-infused evening came to an end. The question now: how to get home. Trains had stopped running and the trek to the bus stop wasn’t exactly convenient — nor particularly appealing or safe at 3 AM. A quick taxi ride home and a sound sleep in preparation for the second day of the festival was top of the agenda. 

One of the great moments of day one of the Bue Festival with Iggy Pop unleashing all his energy next to the audience.

Or that was the plan at least.

But as soon as we went to try to find a taxi, it seemed everything was far from normal. There were lots of taxis available, but meters were off and fixed rates were the order of the day — with random and increasing prices being thrown out as we ambled along the fleet of black and yellow, “400 pesos, 200 pesos, 500 pesos, 300 pesos.” Each driver appeared willing and eager to charge whatever he wanted.

We refused to pay those prices and decided to just sit around and wait. By some miracle our magic solution appeared in the form of a random white mini-bus charging 50 pesos per person. No doubt a pricey proposition, but still cheaper than our other options.

taxi-en-buenos-aires

There’s no mistaking it, what the taxis were doing was blatantly illegal. Government guidelines prohibit fixed rates, as taxis should only run by the meter. If fixed rates are discovered a taxi driver can be given a warning and then as much as a five-year ban if the behavior continues.

“I spent 500 pesos for a taxi from Tecnopolis to my house. But it doesn’t matter because the festival was awesome. Iggy stole the show.”

You can bet none of the taxi drivers were very worried about being found out. The whole thing was set up, and seemed to exemplify what people often refer to as the “taxi mafia” in Buenos Aires. Yes, those same ones who have been so desperately fighting off against Uber and any other app of its kind were making the best argument as to why competition is desperately needed in the City’s taxi business. No one after all would have paid 500 pesos for a taxi ride if there were other alternatives.

The impunity with which the taxi drivers handle themselves in these situations is aggravating, yet illustrates how they feel they are the ones with the power. Little wonder then that so many have resorted to violence against Uber drivers. You can say there’s plenty wrong with Uber but there seems little doubt that it flips the equation and puts the power in the customer’s hands. Exactly what those price gouging taxi drivers did not want on Friday.

As for us? We decided to avoid the drama and take a car the second day.