Colombian users defend Uber against government's decision to ban ride-share service

BOGOTA – Furious taxi drivers and loyal users of Uber are butting heads over Colombia’s new ban on the ride-sharing company.

Amid threats of a strike by yellow taxis who consider cars affiliated with Uber to be “pirates,” the Transportation Ministry this week declared illegal all smartphone applications that facilitate the hiring of cabs that aren’t registered for that purpose.

Taxi drivers fearing a loss of business from Uber’s credit card-only, spruced-up service have challenged the company on similar grounds in many of the 50 countries around the world where it operates.

But the service has won a large following in Colombian cities since arriving a year ago. The reason is simple: a fear of being ripped off by doctored meters or even assaulted by taxi drivers with a reputation for violence.

What’s known as a “millionaire’s ride,” where assailants in cahoots with cabbies jump into a car and force passengers at gunpoint to empty their bank accounts at cash machines, are a top public safety concern. Last year, a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration official was killed in a botched robbery attempt. His assailants, seven taxi drivers, were extradited to the United States.

“When I use Uber I don’t feel like I’m being robbed,” Andrea Zapata told The Associated Press on Wednesday. “It’s frustrating that they’re not allowed to operate.”

Cabbies say drivers of the increasingly ubiquitous white SUVs and sedans affiliated with Uber don’t face the same restrictions or pay the high fees and taxes required of yellow cabs. Licenses for such cars are supposed to be reserved for drivers servicing hotels, schools and other specially designated clients.

“Using this service is the same as buying smuggled goods,” said Jose Rodriguez, president of the National Transporters Association.

Ana Paula Blanco, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco-based Uber, told Blu radio on Wednesday that the company hadn’t been notified of any ban and continues to operate normally. She said Uber is committed to resolving any regulatory concerns in Colombia but insisted that the company, as a provider of technology, isn’t violating any laws and that its affiliated drivers are registered under Colombian norms.


Cesar Garcia on Twitter: @jacobogg