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23 March 2015
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It appears the tweet heard round the internet has finally opened the expected taxi v uber wars here.


For those not intimate with la Capital, “Cybeles” is a roundabout in Roma Norte, a few blocks from the Zona Rosa), home to a number of high-priced “artisanal” type restaurants and cafes… haute bourgeois hipster territory. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Uber is not the only “app based personal transit service” in Mexico, but is the best known.  Taxi drivers have been protesting, notably in late October, when they staged a demonstration on the Zocalo.  At that time, the drivers complained that Uber, and similar services, are acting as a taxi service, while not paying either the licenses required for such services, nor obtaining the permits required for “derecho de cajones y asenso” (pulling out of traffic into parking spaces or loading zones for passengers).  At the demonstration, Ignacio Rodríguez, the director of ATR, the Taxi Drivers’ association, warned that “we are looking for regularization [of the app-based businesses].  We have petitioned the authorities on several occasions, and we will take stronger action”.

Which, if Sr. Molina is to be believed (and no reason to doubt him), the taxi drivers did.

Uber’s response to the alleged attack was to say that “The last thing Mexico needs is more violence, and we vehemently condemn any violence or intimidation,” meaning…what exactly?

Everyone is opposed to violence or intimidation, but, from what Uber is claiming, this is not any violence or intimidation against them… not really.  Responding to the driver’s protests, Uber defended itself by saying that the drivers were “personas morales” and that the autos were those of the drivers.  In other words, Uber is simply providing a forum for arranging a meeting… no different than a dating service like OK Cupid, or or Grindr… although one, presumably, is not looking for true love, but only a ride, and the mystery date is charging for the service.  I suppose there are escorts on the dating sites (well, I know there are!) and, of course, the dating services charge a fee for narrowing your search (as far as the software is concerned there is no difference between putting a person in contact with any given parameter or set of parameters and another — whether a blonde, blue-eyed female between 18 and 25 — or a Passant or similar car, going to the airport on Friday afternoon.  It’s all just data fields.

Given the taxi union arguments, while I am supposed to deplore the attack on a driver and his car (assuming it was the taxi union), it’s to be expected.

Not that Uber doesn’t have it’s defenders.  From the “facebook” page Foreigners in DF(Mexico City) I read this from a Uber user:

The Uber cars are excellent, clean, seat belts works, pleasant drivers that knows their way around, you don’t need cash, you order the type of car you like on your smartphone and get a confirmation with photo of the driver, plates etc. …. Should I keep going?

When using on-line dating services (and, no I won’t say which ones) I never had any trouble, but then, I never would meet with a complete stranger except in a public place, and never get into their car. And, it wasn’t the kind of thing I’d be paying money for. While a taxi driver is a complete stranger, they are in the business of driving a car between point A and point B, vetted by a business that has to follow certain regulations, and from whom a certain standard of conduct is to be expected. I’m sure the Uber drivers are above board, but as private individuals, and not as quasi-public service employees, I am taking an unnecessary risk and AM getting into a car with a blind date… who maybe does have a nice clean car, and is a nice, clean person. But can I be in any way certain of that, or even expect it within the rules of probability, like I can with a taxi?

There are some more esoteric arguments one might make about these “app-based ride-shares”… beyond just the legal questions of liability (as a “persona moral” the driver is the only one responsible for whatever happens in his or her car — not some fiscal person like Uber, or the Taxi company).

Uber, located in San Francisco, California, was financed by hedge funds and venture capital, mostly from the United States, although the Quatar Sovereign Wealth Fund was a major underwriter as well. In other words, the money going to Uber for those blind dates (er… escort service), other than that actually going to the persona moral who happens to be the driver (and who has overhead like gas and maintenance and … one hopes and prays… insurance) is not going to anyone in Mexico, but is being expatriated abroad. To, among other places, Quatar. Why, given that as a Mexican taxpayer, I’m helping underwrite our own public transportation system (including taxis) and our roads, would I want to send money abroad for that service? And what does Uber really contribute to the local economy other than the driver’s percentage? Nothing that I can see.

And, consider where Uber works within the Metropolitan area. From Uber itself, this map (14 April 2015) shows the routes Uber drivers have taken:


As noted by Rodrigo Díaz, an urban planner with a degree in architecture from the Universidad Católica de Chile, and a Masters’ in Urban Planning from MIT, on his website Pedestre, entire areas of the city… coincidentally, the less wealthy areas, simply don’t exist.

On this map there is no Iztapalapa, none of the barrancas, Ajusco, nor the State of Mexico in general. There are no poor. Even the Periferico disappears at the edge of Xochimilco (to be clear, this is not a criticism of Uber, merely a description of how this shows the city as a stratified society). The only reason we found any images on the west side of the city is that is the way to the airport, and some spots highway exits to Toluca.

What you see is that downtown Mexico City is not the center.

Roma-Condessa-Polanco is the center. The Uber-mensch are those in the wealthier parts of the city, traveling to other wealthy parts of the city. For the benefit of wealthy people outside the city.


Gabriela Chávez, Uber vs taxis: los argumentos en la disputa por el transporte en el DF (CNNMéxico, 01 de noviembre de 2014)

FOTOS: Taxistas destrozan a batazos un Uber en el DF (Publimetro)

Uber asegura que taxistas vandalizaron uno de sus vehículos en el DF (CNNMéxico, 21 Marzo 2015)

“Uber (company)”, Wikipedia

Uber y el mapa de la desigualdad en la ciudad de México (Pedestre, 24 abril 2014)

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