Uber and Cabify suspend services in Barcelona in row over new regulations

US ride-hailing service Uber and its main Spanish rival Cabify said Thursday they were suspending their services in Barcelona after local authorities passed new rules which severely restrict how they operate in the city.

Uber and Cabify suspend services in Barcelona in row over new regulations
A man seeks a ride during last week's taxi strike in Barcelona Photo: AFP

Under new rules approved by the regional government of Catalonia which come into effect Friday customers of ride-hailing services will have to book a ride at least 15 minutes in advance.

The rules also allow local city authorities in Catalonia — if they deemed it necessary — to lengthen the pre-booking time to a maximum of one hour. 

Barcelona's left-wing city hall quickly said it would apply the one-hour delay.

The new regulations were announced following pressure from taxi drivers who had been on open-ended strike in Barcelona and remain on strike in Madrid over the same issue.

READ MORE: Taxi drivers call off strike in Barcelona

Uber, which has faced problems in other European countries as taxi drivers complain of threats to their livelihoods, said in a statement that it was “forced to suspend” its UberX service, which competes with taxis, in Spain's second-largest city as of Friday because of the new rules.

“The obligation to wait 15 minutes… does not exist anywhere in Europe and it is totally incompatible with the immediacy of ride-hailing services like UberX,” it added.

Cabify said it too would cease operating in Barcelona as of Friday, stating that the “only objective” of the new rules was to “expel” it from the region.   

The company said 98.5 percent of the rides booked through its app are reserved less than 15 minutes before the time of pick up.   

The new rules will put 3,000-4,000 jobs at risk and force the closure of over 60 firms, according to Unauto VTC, an association of transport companies in Spain.

A company called Vector Ronda, whose fleet of vehicles and drivers use Cabify, announced plans on Wednesday to lay off 1,000 employees.   

The conservative head of the regional government of Madrid, Angel Garrido, has so far refused to adopt the same measures, saying that Catalonia is “heading to the Middle Ages” with its solution to the row between taxis and ride-hailing services.

Like their counterparts in many other European countries, Spain's taxi drivers say that ride-hailing apps like Uber, or its main Spanish rival Cabify, have made it impossible to compete.

OPINION: Why Spain needs to learn to value the sharing economy 


Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.