The popular and polemic transport app Uber launched its services in Buenos Aires and surrounding areas today, sparking protests from taxi drivers.
The company, which had already been recruiting a network of local drivers, announced on social media that it would launch operations at 4pm today for those that have downloaded the app.
Prices vary depending on demand, but generally undercut taxi fares.
The surprise move sparked a number of protests by taxi drivers in the capital, who blocked off more than a dozen major crossroads this afternoon.
The Taxi Drivers Union also filed an injunction today to block Uber, saying the app jeopardised the work of regular taxi drivers. They complain that the company has an unfair advantage because cars and drivers are not subject to the same registration requirements and insurance fees.
Uber has spread rapidly to over 400 cities worldwide, often setting off a heated debate about the legality of its services and the fairness of competition with regular taxi drivers. In Latin America, Uber already has presence in São Paolo, Montevideo, Cali, and Mexico City.
The service is not currently regulated to operate in Argentina, with Buenos Aires transport minister Juan José Méndez confirming to TN that Uber had not registered any cars in the city. Méndez added that Uber cars detected offering the service illegally would be confiscated: “They will be towed, as any illegal transport would be. The vehicle will be taken away until the owner visits the controlling body.”
Uber bases its legality on Argentina’s civil and commercial code, specifically article 1280, which states that it is permissible to ferry people in private vehicles from one destination to another.
Mariano Otero, CEO for Uber in Argentina, said many drivers had already “completed the selection process, provided the necessary documentation and we believe it is the right time to offer our service”.
As an incentive in the early stages after launch, Uber has reportedly promised its drivers a minimum weekly wage of $4,000 to $12,000, providing they are connected and working with the application between 30 to 60 hours. The company takes a 25% cut in the drivers’ income.