The media was abuzz yesterday with news that a City of Buenos Aires court has just ruled that Uber drivers are not in fact involved in criminal activity, striking down charges brought forward against 33 Uber drivers by a Taxi Renters’ Union, which represents taxi drivers who do not own their own vehicle. However, it doesn’t mean that Uber is legal. Confused yet? Ask away.
Why is the ruling a big deal?
Since Uber was launched in Argentina in April, the reaction to it has basically wreaked havoc on the legal front and on the street. The City of Buenos Aires government has been adamantly against Uber from the start and considers the service to be illegal, so local credit cards are blocked from processing Uber payments. This ruling is thus a step toward giving Uber a stronger legal standing in order to start negotiations with the local authorities.
Wait, but aren’t they still running?
Yes, but the credit card block is a bit of an issue and the company has to continuously step up to pay for tows and damages. Plus, police and traffic cops perform random checks on Uber vehicles while the taxi unions, which are pretty powerful in the city, have held demonstrations, filed charges like the one above and even gone on “hunts” for Ubers.
Wait. They do what?
Taxi drivers go on hunts for Uber drivers. You know, to hurt them and threaten them and destroy their cars. Which, of course, really makes the case for taking a cab instead.
So does the ruling mean that I can finally use Uber unhindered?
Sadly, no. It just means that the Uber drivers in question can do their jobs unhindered, assuming that taxi drivers don’t get to them.
I don’t get it, what was the point of the ruling then?
Okay, look, the main thing is that the ruling defined that Uber drivers are carrying out a “legal commercial activity,” i.e. Uber drivers can’t be locked up for driving.
In his ruling, City Judge Alberto Zelaya says that “The company does not incur in any crime [nor] complicate transport [in the City.] There may be administrative infringements and traffic offenses, but not crimes.”
Then why doesn’t that mean it’s legal yet?
Well, first of all it’s the first step in the legal process so just hold your horses: the law firm representing the taxi union appealed Zelaya’s ruling so the legal battle is far from over, much less the war between taxis and Uber.
Plus, Zelaya also said that “everything […] indicates that this criminal court is not the appropriate location to resolve this conflict.” So although he acquitted 33 Uber drivers of their charges, that does not mean that Uber is officially legal as a service (nor that a favorable resolution in this particular court would be enough to legalize it.)
What does Uber make of all this?
Well, the company is logically happy about the ruling.
“This ruling is an important step toward the implementation of innovative and collaborative transport in Argentina. This progress has the potential to generate thousands of economic opportunities, provide more secure and reliable mobility options and promote the reduction in the number of vehicles on the streets. We are committed to keep working with local authorities to bring the benefits of collaborative transport to Argentina,” sources close to Uber told The Bubble.
What do I do in the meantime, then?
Well, there are several ways in which Argentines have managed to sidestep the local ban, with pre-paid cards, cash, bitcoin companies or going on holiday. Alternatively take a taxi and do not, repeat, do not talk about Uber with the driver.