By: Jorge Enrique Robledo / @JERobledo
If the owners of Uber –Goldman Sachs, Google Ventures, Microsoft, etc.– have their way, they could pull off the biggest business deal in history, because they plan to collect from their owner-drivers up to an exorbitant 30 percent for every ride in every city of the world. If in Bogotá alone there are about 1.5 million rides daily, at an average of two dollars a ride, how much are they seeking on a world scale, considering –to boot– that their investment is ridiculously small compared to the magnitude of profits? Uber tricks the public when it presents itself as a non-profit “collaborative” economy, as if it were similar to friends taking up a collection to pay for a party or gas for a carpool.
The first characteristic of Uber, in Colombia and in the world, is that of being a “company that instigates the breaking of the law” as a German court (http://bit.ly/1Rdj5HG) has stated, because Uber promotes the use of private vehicles for public service (UberX) or induces those in public service to engage in activities that go beyond legal controls (white Uber).
The shrewdness of these ultra-powerful mongers of illegality was to discover that the old “piracy” of private drivers posing as taxis, which happened on a small scale due to difficulties in contacting passengers, could be achieved on a large scale through the Internet, which also makes it very difficult for authorities to stop. Uber violates Colombian law in other ways as well. It lies, while denying it, when it acts as a public transportation company: without permission from the authorities, it engages vehicles, hires their drivers, fixes rates, and uses a communications platform to manage a taxi business.
It is also illegal to engage in unfair competition. Uber cars charge less than the taxis that comply with the law, including the insurance contract to protect passengers, vehicle insurance which the Uber transnational doesn’t pay for.
Uber managers are also flagrantly guilty of illegally usurping public functions, as per Article 425 of the Penal Code, because only authorities can establish which motor vehicles can provide public services and fix the appropriate rates. Neither can the activities of Uber be seen as a foundation for novel entitlements because rights can’t be justified on the basis of corruption and bad faith.
Uber illegality becomes apparent when it portrays its activities as meeting the requirements of the draft decree of the government to provide “luxury” taxi service, which is presumably what this formidable transnational corporation is offering. Its stubborn insistence on acting outside the law is confirmed when Uber actually refused to avail itself of that decree and announced that it will lobby to change that very legislation in Congress. It was offensive to see Mike Shoemaker, Uber chief in Colombia, with the support of President Santos and Vice President Vargas, notifying Colombians that his company will continue to violate the Constitution and the laws of the land.
To make matters worse, the public should know that for months the Ministry of Transportation has requested that the Minister of Information and Technology, Mr. Molano, and the Superintendent of Industry proceed against the illegal transgressions of Uber. Yet, nothing has happened (http://bit.ly/1lCOAkH).
Moreover, it is false that Uber proposes to solve the failures of taxi service in Bogota and the rest of the country, for the simple reason that more than 85 percent of Colombians do not have a credit card or a high-end phone cell data plan. On the contrary, Uber activities, which include instigating “piracy” in cargo transport, will aggravate the problems of urban mobility by increasing the number of cars in circulation and by reducing the gains of legal taxis and weakening their businesses, which in turn will lead to the deterioration of vehicle maintenance and the quality of service offered by those operating within the law. This is another example of what can be good for one may not be good for everyone.
Studies agree that we must regulate transportation or cities will degenerate into chaos (http://bit.ly/1MV8YIz). I am among those who believe that taxi service can and should be improved. But this will only be possible on the basis of technical criteria, respect for the rules, and meeting the needs of passengers, vehicle owners and drivers. Things must truly be breaking down in society when the owners of companies like Uber, acting in bad faith and with total impunity, are allowed to operate outside the law and in detriment of personal convenience in so many parts of the world.
Bogotá, December 4, 2015.