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Uber, Cabify suspend services in Barcelona due to new regulations

By AFP - Jan 31,2019 - Last updated at Jan 31,2019

In this photo taken on January 22, 2019, taxi drivers, many wearing yellow vests, stop a Cabify driver during a strike in Barcelona to protest against regulations proposed by the authorities for tourism vehicles with chauffeur (AFP file photo)

BARCELONA — US ride-hailing service Uber and its main Spanish rival Cabify said on Thursday they were suspending their services in Barcelona after local authorities passed new rules which severely restrict how they operate in the city.

Under new rules approved by the regional government of Catalonia which come into effect on Friday customers of ride-hailing services will have to book a ride at least 15 minutes in advance.

The rules also allow local city authorities in Catalonia — if they deemed it necessary — to lengthen the pre-booking time to a maximum of one hour. 

Barcelona's left-wing city hall quickly said it would apply the one-hour delay.

The new regulations were announced following pressure from taxi drivers who had been on open-ended strike in Barcelona and remain on strike in Madrid over the same issue.

Uber, which has faced problems in other European countries as taxi drivers complain of threats to their livelihoods, said in a statement that it was "forced to suspend" its UberX service, which competes with taxis, in Spain's second-largest city as of Friday because of the new rules.

"The obligation to wait 15 minutes... does not exist anywhere in Europe and it is totally incompatible with the immediacy of ride-hailing services like UberX," it added.

Cabify said it too would cease operating in Barcelona as of Friday, stating that the "only objective" of the new rules was to "expel" it from the region.

The company said 98.5 per cent of the rides booked through its app are reserved less than 15 minutes before the time of pick up.

The new rules will put 3,000 — 4,000 jobs at risk and force the closure of over 60 firms, according to Unauto VTC, an association of transport companies in Spain.

A company called Vector Ronda, whose fleet of vehicles and drivers use Cabify, announced plans on Wednesday to lay off 1,000 employees.

The conservative head of the regional government of Madrid, Angel Garrido, has so far refused to adopt the same measures, saying that Catalonia is "heading to the Middle Ages" with its solution to the row between taxis and ride-hailing services.

Like their counterparts in many other European countries, Spain's taxi drivers say that ride-hailing apps like Uber, or its main Spanish rival Cabify, have made it impossible to compete.

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