October 24, 2017
On Monday, thousands of taxi drivers protested transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber, in the Colombian capital Bogota. The protesters blocked roads and clashed with police, as drivers object to what they say is an unfair advantage awarded to app-based services in their country.
In recent years, almost every major town around the world has seen similar forms of protests. Taxi industry groups argue that TNCs are illegal taxicab operations which take away their business. The decline in ‘traditional’ taxi rides, according to these organizations, has to do with unfair competition, through which TNCs can simply offer cheaper rides. The protesters are calling for more regulation on technology companies like Uber and Cabify, who they say are not obliged to pay insurance.
Where some federal and local governments engage with all parties involved, to create a level playing field, other argue that it is simply a better and more affordable quality of transportation offered by apps as Uber, Cabify and Lift that makes the difference. “A point that rarely gets talked about is how you can’t reverse the consumer behavior,” sharing economy expert Rachel Botsman told The Huffington Post. “The public has experienced a new way to get from A to B and in many instances decided the new way is better. Once the genie is out of the bottle, that new way exists, you can’t reverse the story.”
Whatever your verdict on the TNCs takeover of the transport-industry is, one thing we could argue is that taxi-drivers’ methods for defending their position might not be all that effective. First of all, the common goal of their effort seems to ignore the root of the issue they are battling. Where the protesters in Bogota demand a level-playing field in their sector (or rather a ban on TNC-services all together), shifting consumer behavior seems to be guided by convenience and quality of service, rather then simply depend on the price of the ride.
Building on the latter, protest-techniques used by the taxi-drivers might not be the most suited to win back the consumers confidance. Where their disruptive techniques of blocking roads or ‘go-slow‘-actions seem to speculate on forcing the authorities to act, these actions will be counterproductive in winning back consumer confidence.
Finally, the protesters might have to reconsider their Vision of Tomorrow; is their goal to eliminate the competition, which offers better quality for less money? Or should the goal be to assure stable work for a decent pay? If that is so, the traditional taxi-industry could incorporate their apparent enemy in their struggle. Less then a year ago, London’s Uber-drivers protested their San Fransisco-based employer, disapproving the low pay for long hours. Could drivers from both sides of the divide work together towards their shared interests?
Photograph: Ricardo Moraes/Reuters