Cab drivers in Madrid protest amid low post-outbreak demand

MADRID (AP) — A wave of honking taxis took over a central Madrid avenue Tuesday to demand limits on the number of pay-for-ride vehicles amid a slump in demand due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Two of the Spanish capital’s main cab drivers’ unions, the Professional Federation of Taxis in Madrid (FPTM) and Elite Taxi, organized the protest. Taxis, which are considered a public service, are highly regulated by local governments.

When Spain’s state of emergency over the virus ended on June 21, the city’s 16,000-strong fleet was required to go back to work. Only half of the regulated cabs were out seeking fares during the lockdown.

But unions say that customer demand is 15% of what it was before the pandemic given a sluggish return to regular economic activity and the ongoing presence of few tourists in Madrid. Taxi drivers complain that competition from ride-hailing apps such as Uber and Cabify is further cutting into their earnings.

Taxi driver José Barandillo, 50, said there is a huge imbalance between supply and demand on the streets of Madrid. “This means we are losing money, this industry is losing money,” he said.

The unions said that waiting for customers is also creating dangerous health conditions as long queues of cab drivers stand by their vehicles at taxi stops and at at the city’s international airport.

The conservative mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez Almeida, told reporters that he’s open to discussions with union representatives but that legally speaking it’s hard for City Hall to curb the number of ride providers operating.

Spain has reported nearly 249,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 28,300 deaths officially attributed to the new coronavirus.

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