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Taxi drivers descend on Lisbon in massive anti-Uber protest

As many as 6000 taxis have begun their “go slow” anti-Uber protest drive through Lisbon this morning, en-route for the Assembleia da República.

The mission is to highlight failings of the government’s attempts to regulate digital transport systems.

Despite the fact that moves are underway to legalise Uber, Cabify and any other smartphone operator that enters the market (click here), traditional cabbies say that they fall short of acceptable, and indeed, until they have been passed any unmarked cabs should be deemed as working illegally and shut down.

Joining the massive show of force today are taxi drivers from as far afield as Faro and Porto.

The bottom-line is that once drivers have arrived at the steps of the parliamentary building, they will not leave without answers.

Whether the plan ‘works’ depends largely on how the morning develops.

According to reports, PSP police have been preparing for the protest for days and “have instructions to secure rapid strong-armed response” if things turn ugly.

National tabloid Correio da Manhã adds that police will be keeping protesting taxis in groups of 10-15, so that they can “reduce the possibilities of stone-throwing from or against the vehicles in the procession”.

Meantime, anyone travelling into Lisbon from the south has been advised to “use the train”, while commuters are prime that their best bet for getting to and from work today is the Metro.

Unions behind the ‘megaprotest’ say there is no scheduled time for it to end. It is simply ‘open’ in the hope that changes can be won.

Talking to TV cameras as the taxis began their slow march through the capital, prime minister António Costa highlighted the fact that the government is trying to “regulate a service that already exists”, and that one of the major stumbling blocks is that traditional cabbies want the number of Uber-type cars available in any one town or city limited.

It something Costa says is “obviously not possible”.

Thus the stalemate looks set to continue as the morning develops, with news and radio stations covering every step of the way.

Lusa meantime has interviewed the director-general of Cabify Portugal (Cabify being a Spanish operator) to discover that even these companies doubt the government’s plans will be enough to properly regulate the digital platform system.
Nuno Santos explained that there are legal and fiscal aspects that still need to be tackled.

A bit like the property rentals market, he explained – citing the situation of Airbnb v. hotels – cabs need to be regulated so that they compete with each other “in a balanced way”.

Otherwise there could be “perverse effects”, including “situations of abuses of dominant power, unfair competition and manipulation of prices” between operators.

UPDATE MIDDAY:

Ugly scenes have been playing out at Lisbon airport, with at least one Uber car reported to have been “vandalised” by angry protestors. Riot police are position, with TV stations flashing up ‘breaking news’ about “maximum tension”.

Three taxi drivers have been arrested, reports CMTV, while Público says that the Minister of the Environment, João Pedro Matos Fernandes, has called for an ‘urgent meeting’ with taxi drivers unions in the parliamentary building.

UPDATE 3.30pm

The meeting with environment minister Matos Fernandes concluded after almost four hours of talks, with union representatives now on their way back to the demo that remains in a long stationery line around Lisbon airport.

The planned ‘slow march’ to the parliamentary building has yet to make any further advances.

Statements by the taxi drivers’ unions are expected shortly.

UPDATE 4pm

Deadlock. No real advances appear to have been made. Taxi drivers say they will not move until the government cedes to their demands. Taxi driver respresentatives are also blaming police for much of the ongoing tension.

UPDATE 5pm

Tax drivers vow they “came prepared” and are going to set up camp through the night.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com