Yesterday saw the first indictment of a “Caza-Uber” (“Uber hunter”) in Buenos Aires, with 32-year old taxi driver Martín Sensón receiving a AR $100,000 penalty and the suspension of his license. Sensón was charged with crimes of minor damage and coercion.
Sources confirm that Sensón is part of a group of taxi drivers who are primarily looking for Uber drivers, in order to assault them on the street and intimate them enough to stop driving for the ride-sharing app. This group mainly comprises of the “Taxistas Unidos,” which use social media, such as WhatsApp and Twitter, to share vehicle registration of Uber drivers and to organize their attacks.
Nevertheless, this has meant many Cabify cars – and even some taxis – have been mistaken as Ubers. Cabify is a digital remise service, which is legal and regulated within Argentina, and is being directly affected by the vigilante taxi drivers. For safety reasons, many Uber drivers request that passengers travel in the front seat to minimize the chance of being caught or stopped by Police; given Cabify’s legality, most passengers remain in the backseat. As such, taxi drivers often confuse the two and go after these unassuming – and innocent – people. (You can read up on the differences between Uber and Cabify in this article.)
Guillermo Carvajal, the National Judge of Criminal Corrections, enforced the penalty fine to resolve the issue that occurred on September 9, 2017, when a Cabify car was mistaken as an Uber and intercepted on Avenida Córdoba, in the Palermo neighborhood.
This later led to the authorities’ notifying the Transport Ministry of the City of Buenos Aires, which automatically suspended Sensón’s taxi license indefinitely.
According to the verdict, a Chevrolet Classic was intercepted by a Corsa driven by the accused, who got out of his car carrying a metal-like instrument and struck the Cabify driver on the left-side of his head, causing minor injuries. Later, he began to strike the car and verbally threaten the driver.
However, this was not the only incident involving Sensón prior to charges being pressed. In the early hours of September 16, 2017, he attacked another driver in the Palermo area – driving the same Corsa.
The judge also conveyed that “a pattern of behavior of different taxi drivers toward drivers of private services like Uber and Cabify, especially the one evaluated here, all of which acquires a greater sense of addressing the tenor and content of targeted intimidation and has even had public impact in the media.”
In addition, he confirmed: “I evaluated the evidence gathered and it shows that it was Martin Facundo Sensón, the person who, in the early hours of September 9, 2017, cut off the vehicle that the plaintiff was driving, forcing him to stop, and then got out of the rented vehicle holding a blunt metal object and, with force, hit him in the temple area, causing minor injuries, intimidating him because of his work with companies such as Uber and Cabify.”
Public shaming (known locally as “escrache”) and violent attacks have become a common occurrence for many Uber and Cabify drivers. Instances of their vehicles being spray-painted in red with the inscription “Uber,” windows broken, wheels punctured, and stained with acid have been reported several times. Although more often than not, it isn’t just the vehicles that are harmed – numerous Uber drivers are harassed and beaten, while the passengers themselves who have chosen the cheaper mode of transport are also subject to the terror and violence. For instance, the sister of the actress Calu Rivero, Marou (an influencer/blogger herself), told her followers that last Friday around 10 PM, a taxi driver fired at the Cabify car in which she was traveling. She tweeted: “What the hell are we doing with this level of violence? There are cars who use the platform, that are approved, and they pay for insurance.”
Anoche un taxista disparo un aire comprimido a un @cabify_arg en el que YO iba. Qué merda les pasa?? Qué carajo hacemos con este nivel de violencia? Son remises que usan la plataforma, están habilitados, pagan seguro, son legales! WTF? pic.twitter.com/2SiqaoTL17
— Chica • Lunar (@marourivero) June 30, 2018
Buenos Aires is one of the few cities in the world where users cannot freely choose between taking taxi or an Uber, without the off-chance of harassment. Violent incidents in the city have led to increased pressure on the local government, which contributed to credit cards being blocked by local banks at the beginning of 2017. Moreover, there was an attempt to jail local Uber executives. This, however, failed and only brought about the restriction of the app’s access back in February 2017. Users complain that the taxi lobby is pulling the strings behind the scenes of Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta’s administration, getting involved and using violence rather than letting the authorities handle matters in the correct manner.
These restrictions were later lifted and Uber resumed normal operations, with the looming threat of violent practices still continuing. However, June 2nd marked the first time that these crimes were penalized and punished.
Perhaps this is a small move in the right direction, which justice is being brought against the vigilante taxi drivers eager to take matters into their own hands. However, many would argue that there needs to be changes to both sides of the game – with increased penalties on violence, but also more legislation to prevent Uber from diminishing the local taxis’ clientele.