- REUTERS/ John Vizcaino
Authorities in Colombia have launched a crackdown on the ride-hailing service Uber, seizing more than 1,200 vehicles using the service in recent days.
Colombian officials “have been carrying out a crash plan to control the streets and what is happening in terms of illegality” related to Uber’s operations, Transport Minister Jorge Eduardo Rojas said, according to Colombia Reports.
The seizures are the latest salvo in Colombia’s effort to clamp down on what it deems “illegal” competition to other forms of transport in the country.
In November 2015, President Juan Manuel Santos gave Uber six months to formally register its operations as a taxi company in the country or face a ban.
In a statement to Business Insider, an Uber spokesman in Colombia disputed the characterization of the company as a taxi firm, saying: “Uber is a technology company legally constituted in Colombia. There is no administrative or legal act that has declared our operation illegal, nor are there any rules in the country that prohibit or punish citizens who share their private vehicles.”
In March, the South American country issued a $140,000 fine to the ride-hailing service after the country’s transport superintendent decided that “partners and drivers registered with Uber Colombia and its platform offer an unauthorized service.”
The company did not adhere to that six-month deadline, and, according to Colombia Reports, Colombian authorities have started an effort to shut down its operations. As of Thursday, 962 cars using Uber and 253 using UberX had been impounded.
Uber is “an illegal transportation service,” Fernando Isaza, the secretary of mobility in the Caribbean city of Barranquilla, said on Tuesday. “We will sanction all the people who violate or facilitate the violation of the norms,” he told the Colombian newspaper El Heraldo. Isaza also said on Tuesday that 47 people had been fined for using Uber.
- REUTERS/ John Vizcaino
According to the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo, cars will be held for five days on the first offense, 20 days on the second, and 40 days on the third. People caught using the app will be given a summons and issued a fine equal to five times the current daily-minimum salary, or about $39.
Amid the ongoing wrangling over Uber’s operation in Colombia, the ride-hailing service introduced its UberPool offering, which allows users to share rides. UberPool launched on Tuesday, and Colombian authorities vowed to shut it down as well.
“It is not possible that these persons, that these vehicles, now not only perform illegal trips, but also offer another service that isn’t regulated,” Rojas, the transportation minister, said the day after UberPool’s launch.
Uber has continued to promote its services in Colombia, despite official pronouncements against the app.
An Uber spokesperson in Colombia told Business Insider that the company was not aware of any Uber drivers in the country who had been fined. “Uber is now operating in 17 colombian cities, connecting more than 450k users with 30k drivers with safe and reliable urban solutions like uberPOOL, UberBLACK, uberX,” and other services, Uber said in an email.
‘The tip of the iceberg’
Uber has refused to register with the Colombian government as a taxi service, and, as in other countries, Uber drivers in Colombia are defined as “associates.” The ride-hailing service has also accused the country’s government of defending a monopoly held by taxi services in Colombian cities, Colombia Reports notes.
In spite of its clashes with authorities, Uber maintains support among Colombians, particularly the urban population, who, according to Colombia Reports, have long complained about the country’s taxi services.
- REUTERS/Adan Gutierrez
Uber’s rough reception in Colombia is the latest pushback it has faced as it makes its way into the Latin American market, following a court-ordered shutdown in Argentina, fees and protests in Brazil, and anti-Uber riots in Mexico.
The hostile reception notwithstanding, the ride-hailing service says it has seen its most rapid growth in Latin America, tripling the number of rides taken using its app in the first four months of this year.
“Today we are close to breaking even in the region,” Rodrigo Arevalo, Uber’s regional manager for Latin America, told Bloomberg in late May, adding that the company had its eyes on Puerto Rico and Venezuela next.
“We’re still only at the tip of the iceberg,” Arevalo said.
This post has been updated to clarify Uber’s six-month registration deadline and when it was fined. Statements from an Uber spokesman in Colombia have also been added.