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After the defeat of Uber, a new taxi model is emerging in Barcelona

In the Gig Economy Project, we have been closely following developments in the Barcelona taxi and private hire sector since we set-up two and a half years ago. We have found Barcelona particularly interesting because here you have a taxi union, in Elité Taxi Barcelona, which has proven hugely effective in not just resisting Uber but actually preventing the company from effectively establishing itself in the Catalan capital, based on the clear understanding that if Uber becomes established, all professional drivers in the city will effectively be 'Uberised', as has happened in cities all across Europe.

In July, a decisive victory was struck by Elité Taxi, when the Catalan Parliament passed a Decree law which effectively limits VTCs in the city to limousines and passenger vans. Elité's leader, Tito Álvarez, was given a standing ovation in the parliament after the law was passed. The intention of the law was clear: rather than VTCs and taxis competing in a market, they would have separate roles in the city, with the taxis given primacy and considered a public road transport for the city. The VTC platforms reacted with fury, with Cabify running an advertising campaign targeting the Catalan Minister of Transport while Bolt sought to get around the law by adding an artificial extension to the back of their car. None of these tactics seem to be working, and the new law is set to enter into force on 1 January 2023.

At that point, the game changes somewhat. It then becomes less a battle to keep Uber out of Barcelona, and more a project to show that the taxi alone can meet the car hire transport needs of a major European metropolis. And in response to this new phase, it appears that a new model of the taxi is emerging in Barcelona. On Wednesday [November 2], Picmi Taxi, a public-owned digital taxi app, went live for the first time. Before Picmi Taxi, taxis in the city could only be booked through private payment tools and platforms like 'Free Now', which has been heavily criticised by Àlvarez for being in league with Uber and the other private hire platforms.

Picmi Taxi is one of very few examples of the public sector establishing an app in an industry sector, and whether it is successful or not will be watched closely across the continent. It promises that users can get a taxi with just one click, since the app is connected to every registered taxi driver in the Barcelona metropolitan area. The hope is that this model will mean less taxis aimlessly circulating around the streets looking for a ride and thus lower pollution. The public app has been a demand for years from Elité Taxi, and Álvarez said: "We always complain that the administrations don't do anything. Now they have and now it's up to us to take advantage of this tool." He added that "unlike Uber", the app protects users personal data. 

Álvarez is also seeking support for VTC drivers to switch to become taxi drivers, since the Decree Law means many will be out of work come 1 January. He said that "there will be many professional drivers who will be unemployed" and therefore he wanted these drivers to have "some benefits in the exam" that is required to become a licensed taxi driver, especially in the 'knowledge of the city' part. The reduction in VTCs will mean there will be a higher demand for taxis and thus for taxi drivers, with the union leader stating that "we need to be between 1,300 and 1,500 drivers in the taxi sector with very decent conditions."

So what we have here is not only the displacement of private hire platforms from Barcelona, but also the replacement of a market competition model with a public-sector alternative, with a planned approach to labour supply to boot. The end of over-supply will mean drivers will not be competing with one another to scrape a living and can be confident that they will get enough work each day, while the public-sector app should ensure greater efficiency in matching drivers to customers, thus reducing congestion and pollution.

If this new taxi model can be shown to work well, what may become known as 'the Barcelona model' could be a beacon for anyone seeking an alternative to platform capitalism, and not just in the taxi sector.

Ben Wray, Gig Economy Project co-ordinator

Brave New Europe emergency funding appeal

BRAVE NEW EUROPE, the website which founded and hosts the Gig Economy Project, is running an emergency funding appeal. If it can't raise £20,000 in one-off and regular donations, the site will shut down. If you can support the BRAVE NEW EUROPE funding appeal, it will help keep both BNE and the Gig Economy Project going. Click here for the full details and to donate.

Gig Economy news round-up

  • CZECHS SEEK COMPROMISE TEXT AT EU COUNCIL ON PLATFORM WORK DIRECTIVE: The Czech Republic, current president of the EU Council, has drafted a third "compromise" text on the Platform Work Directive, as it seeks a consensus on the reform among member-states. EurActiv reports that the new text beefs up the language on algorithmic management and personal data protection, in a bid to appease more left-wing member-states, after the labour ministers from eight of them, including Spain and Germany, wrote a letter to the Czech Presidency and EU Commissioner for jobs and social rights Nicolas Schmit, who was responsible for the original draft proposal, expressing their concern about attempts to water-down the Directive. The new text, dated 28 October, still includes the previous change that three criteria, rather than two, must be met for the presumption of employment to be triggered. The changes to the algorithmic management part of the text add a new Article dedicated to the “limitations on [the] processing of personal data by means of automated monitoring or decision-making systems.” The new text will be discussed on 15 November, thought to be the last working group meeting before a position is due to be agreed early December. Read more here.
  • ADCU UNION INTERVENES IN "CRUCIAL" UBER HIGH COURT CASE: The App Drivers & Couriers (ADCU) union gave evidence on Thursday in a "crucial" High Court case which could determine Uber's operations in the UK outside of London. In a similar case in the High Court last year over Uber's business model in London, ADCU defeated Uber, forcing the company to change its model so that it contracted directly with passengers, rather than as an 'agent' between drivers and passengers. This change meant Uber had to consider its drivers as employees and had to pay VAT. On Monday, the US ridehail giant announced a deal with HMRC for back-payment of £615 million in unpaid VAT, an agreement which ADCU described as a "sweetheart deal". The new High Court case is seeking to establish Uber's operating practice for the rest of UK in light of the London verdict, but ADCU say Uber is interpreting licensing laws in a way that limits its accountability, while the main defender in the case, Sefton Council, is putting forward a "neutral" proposition, hence why ADCU is intervening. Read more here.
  • NEARLY 1000 FIRED UNDOCUMENTED RIDERS PROTEST AGAIN IN PARIS: A demonstration nearly 1,000 strong calling for the "regularisation" of undocumented migrant workers in France, around 3000 of whom were fired by Uber Eats over the summer, took place in Paris again last Sunday [30 October]. The riders have been mobilising through Paris each week for over a month in protest at their instant de-activation, which left many destitute, and calling on the French Government to change the 'Valls Circular', which currently allows an undocumented worker to have their situation regularised but only if they have pay-slips, which food delivery couriers do not have. Delegations from the protestors, which have been supported by the CLAP riders' collective, have held meetings with the Ministry of Labour which have been described as positive and are set to continue this month. The riders accuse Uber Eats of being happy to make use of undocumented workers when demand was high and only administering a crack down when it was in their interest. More here
  • NEW REGULATION OF PRIVATE HIRE PLATFORMS AND TAXIS IN GENEVA: A new law regulating private hire platforms (VTC) and the taxi industry in the Swiss canton of Geneva entered into force on Tuesday [1 November]. The regulation comes after a court found in June that Uber drivers in the canton were employees. The new law will establish an authorisation system for licensing VTC drivers, limiting the number of authorisations to 1100, requiring drivers to drive for at least 32 hours a week and banning the leasing of licenses. The new law also allows for the use of data to verify that companies and drivers are legally compliant, and there is a maximum price for certain journeys, for example from the airport to the city. Taxi drivers took strike action in Geneva on 17 October after the authorities temporarily ended the suspension of Uber's license following the company's decision to establish a "dual model" that allows drivers to either remain independent contractors or become employees via a sub-contractor. Negotiations between unions and Uber over the payment of back-dated pay and social security contributions have broken down, and are now likely to be settled in court.
  • SUPERMARKET DELIVERY PLATFORM 'LOLA MARKET' ENDS OPERATIONS: Lola Market, a Spanish supermarket delivery platform which was bought by Glovo just over a year ago, has announced that it has ceased operations from Saturday [5 November]. The company offered an online shopping service from major supermarkets in Spain such as Makro, Lidl, Carrefour, Mercadona and Dia, and was available in almost all of the country's big cities. After Glovo, the controversial Spanish restaurant and grocery delivery platform, purchased Lola Market in September 2021 it announced that it would maintain its brand and would be run independently, but it has now taken the decision to close the firm entirely, at a time when Glovo's new owner, German multi-national Delivery Hero, is looking for cut-backs across its operations. 'La Información' reports that Delivery Hero wants Glovo's balance sheet to improve, with Ebitda losses for this year expected to be €300 million at the Barcelona-headquartered firm. Lola Market is thought to have around 100 staff, some of whom will be re-located to other parts of Glovo, while others will be made redundant. Read more here.

On GEP this week

Anne Dufresne, Bruno Bauraind: The new "Taxi Plan" in Brussels: Towards an Uberisation of the sector?

Anne Dufresne and Bruno Bauraind, researchers at GRESEA, find that the new “Taxi Plan” for Brussels, which came into effect on 21 October and is aimed at resolving continual conflict between Uber and taxis since 2014, will merely intensify the conflict and take it onto an interregional footing, while deepening the Uberisation of both private hire drivers and taxis.
From around the web
How will we remember the age of cheap money?

Sarah O'Connor finds in the FT that her lasting image of the era of cheap money will be that customers can now pay for a Deliveroo take-away in instalments via Swedish fintech company Klarna.
Fortifying the Algorithmic Management provisions in the proposed Platform Work Directive

In this paper, Michael Veale, M. Six Silberman and Reuben Binns look at the provisions for the regulation of algorithmic management in the EU's Platform Work Directive, which are "well-drafted" but require re-enforcement at the legislative, implementation and enforcement stages.
Unpaid labour and territorial extraction in digital value networks

In this paper, Kelle Howson, Hannah Johnston, Matthew Cole, Fabian Ferrari, Funda Ustek-Spilda and Mark Graham find unpaid labour is "a systemic mechanism of accumulation" on cloudwork platforms.

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