The City of Buenos government passed yesterday a bill modifying its transportation code by increasing the legal punishment for what they call “illegal transport.” Even though the bill reaches, for example, school bus drivers who decide to use their vehicle to take protesters to political rallies and demonstrations, it mainly represents yet another escalation in mayor Rodríguez Larreta’s war against Uber.
The new bill indicates that law enforcement officials who identify Uber drivers operating on the street can impose them fines that go as high as AR $178,500 (roughly US$5,000) and withhold their licenses for a period spanning between seven and 30 days. Before the bill was passed, the period ranged between five and ten days.
The bill was introduced by the representatives of the Rodríguez Larreta administration in the legislature, and had the support of Peronist lawmakers. In contrast, the Evolución party, whose national leader is Martín Lousteau, presented a bill of their own aimed at legalizing the app, as it happened in Mendoza in July this year.
When defending the initiative, Vice President of the legislature, Francisco Quintana, made a direct reference to Uber, saying that “as long as they do not fall in line with the law, we see the obligation to increase sanctions.” “We are open to talks, as long as there is will to operate within the law. Other companies have already understood that this is the way,” he added.
Outside the chamber, members of taxi drivers unions members with their cars outside the legislature. Besides regularly protesting against the app, organized cab drivers have systematically attacked their Uber counterparts. So far this year, Uber says that there have been 750 attacks against its drivers in Buenos Aires.
Uber added that of the 750 registered incidents this year, only 250 drivers had made a formal complaint. The others had declined to do so, fearing possible reprisals.
But in contrast with their eagerness to sanction the app, authorities remain reluctant to prosecute the so-called caza-Ubers (“Uber hunters”). Any one of Uber’s one million users in Buenos Aires (the city and the province) can vouch for Uber drivers’ fear of being found out by their public counterparts. Drivers will often insist on measures to make them less visible, from pretending to greet a “friend” and sitting in the front seat to being dropped deep in a car park at the Ezeiza airport, away from where the taxis occupy the main drop-off point.
Uber Executives told Reuters that Argentina represented Uber’s fastest-growing market in the world, due to the country’s economic downturn which has seen rising unemployment levels and reduced purchasing power for many Argentines. Uber estimates that in the last three months, it has had 1 million active users in Buenos Aires and 55,000 active drivers, adding around 7,000 new users and between 300 and 400 new drivers every day.