BOGOTA (Reuters) – Thousands of taxi drivers in Colombia’s capital Bogota began an indefinite strike on Monday to protest private transport services like Uber [UBER.UL], snarling traffic for much of the day as drivers blocked roads and clashed with police.
Taxis drivers complain that services such as Uber and Cabify, which are unregulated in Colombia, take custom away and have an advantage because they are not obliged to pay insurance and other levies.
Yellow cabs are also protesting a decision by the city government that would require them to replace taxi meters with software applications to collect fares. They argue the technology is costly and make them more vulnerable to robbery.
“We want the government to stop Uber, Cabify and any other applications that try to come here,” said William Trivino, a 38-year-old taxi driver in downtown Bogota. “Protect taxi drivers who…pay taxes and don’t allow someone with a private vehicle and a cell phone to become a taxi.”
Protesters blocked roads and attacked colleagues that did not join the strike. Police threw tear gas to disperse them.
There are some 480,000 registered taxis in Colombia, with 53,000 in Bogota, a city of about 8 million people.
Uber and Cabify operate in a legal vacuum in Colombia, with the Technology, Information and Communication Ministry saying it cannot block them, while the Transport Ministry says they operate illegally but cannot be closed down.
Uber said in a statement that it is a safe and reliable alternative for thousands of users. Cabify said that taxi drivers and app-based services can coexist to provide quality service.
Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta; Writing by Helen Murphy; Editing by Cynthia Osterman