Many Uber passengers in Buenos Aires have been caught off guard when their car drove up and the front car door opened for them. Or worse, settled down in the back seat and been asked to switch. What’s going on?
There has been intense controversy surrounding Uber since the app was launched in Argentina this year. Taxi drivers held demonstrations, spontaneously blocking key roads, such as the 9 de Julio Avenue, and wreaking havoc.
The City of Buenos Aires government has been adamantly against Uber from the start, towing active vehicles with exorbitant fines as it considers the service to be illegal. There have been raids on Uber offices downtown to seize documents. In September, the City Attorney General’s Office pressed charges that could end up sending eight drivers and four managers to jail and the Legislature has approved the launch of a rival app, TAXIBA.
It’s precisely because police and traffic cops perform random checks on Uber vehicles and tow them away, that drivers often ask passengers to sit up front to avoid problems. After all, it’s much easier to pretend not to be a private car service if the passenger is sitting up front.
Uber takes a step back from the practice. It doesn’t recommend nor discourages riding in the front seat because, by nature, ridesharing implies a private contract between the driver and the passenger. The decision on where to sit is up to the passenger: if the passenger feels comfortable riding at the front, he or she is free to do so. On the flip side, despite how awkward it may be, if a driver opens the front door directly, the passenger can also refuse if it makes them uncomfortable. Worst case scenario? You can always order another Uber.
Uber drivers aren’t just worried about law enforcement, but aggressive taxi drivers. Two Uber drivers recounted terrifying experiences to Infobae recently, speaking of how taxi drivers and their allies have gone on “hunts” for Ubers. Drivers have been ambushed, particularly at the Ezeiza airport, by taxi drivers posing as clients, while others write down their license plates to later identify them.
The attacks have included extensive damage to their vehicles that can range from broken windows to setting fire to cars. There is also physical violence: a driver who identified himself as Jorge told Infobae that was forced out of his car by five taxi drivers who slammed his hand with a bat.
“Violence is unacceptable and it is the duty of the authorities to protect all citizens without distinction. Here at Uber we will continue to assist partner drivers with all the resources within our reach. We trust that the authorities will find the attackers and bring them to justice,” sources close to Uber told The Bubble.
Despite the potential dangers, drivers do not seem deterred: “There’s no question, I’m not even thinking of stopping. I need the extra income for my family,” said one of the drivers, who identified himself as Maximiliano.
Uber, for its part, urges passengers to continue using the app. The City of Buenos Aires doesn’t. But the good news is that if you’re taking an Uber and are asked to ride in the front seat, the decision is yours.