A group of Belgian taxi drivers, along with colleagues from Barcelona, have today visited president Carles Puigdemont in Waterloo at the House of the Republic. The president went outside to speak with them in front of the media, then took a short ride in a Catalan taxi before inviting the drivers inside the house.
Molt agraït als representants del sector del taxi de Barcelona que han fet un llarg viatge per venir a expressar-me les seves preocupacions, les seves demandes i també les seves propostes per al futur. Estic en contacte amb el conseller @damiacalvet i el president @QuimTorraiPla pic.twitter.com/7qJR9FjI3R— Carles Puigdemont (@KRLS) January 24, 2019
Translation of Puigdemont's tweet: Very thankful to the representatives of the taxi sector in Barcelona who've made a long journey to come to express their worries to me, their demands and also their proposals for the future. I'm in contact with [territory and sustainability] minister Damià Calvet and president Quim Torra.
The union Élite Taxi had promised some days ago to visit Puigdemont in Waterloo, along with Belgian colleagues. According to the union, four Catalan drivers have made the two-day trip from Barcelona, aiming to "take the taxi problem beyond our borders". They aimed to negotiate with Puigdemont, explaining the problems faced by the sector and asking for his help.
The latest taxi strike started last week. Driver unions argue that the proposed new conditions for rideshare firms (who in Catalonia operate under so-called VTC licences) are unfair in comparison with the regulations they have to comply with.
The government's new proposal is for users to have to book vehicles with companies like Uber at least 15 minutes in advance, with local councils able to increase this time up to an hour. They will also prevent rideshare firms from using geolocation technology until a ride has been booked and vehicles will be banned from driving around without passengers.
In a vote that dragged on late into the night yesterday, taxi drivers voted narrowly to lift their strike following the new plan. Of the 4,720 who voted (32%), 2,508 voted to end the action, 2,167 wanted to continue. They then removed their vehicles which they had used to block Barcelona's Gran Via avenue and started working again as normal from 6am this morning. Spokespeople for the sector, meanwhile, warn that if the government doesn't follow through on its promises they will take back to the streets. They have raised the spectre of boycotting the Mobile World Congress, one of the most important international events held annually in the city.
The VTC union, however, accuse the government of having "yielded to blackmail". They believe the new regulations could hamstring the sector. As such, hundreds of VTC drivers remain occupying part of Barcelona's Diagonal avenue.
During the strike, some taxi drivers attacked VTC vehicles; one driver suffered an anxiety attack as a result. According to the VTC union, some 80 vehicles were damaged over the first days.
Despite their threats when the latest plan was announced, however, neither Uber nor Cabify has yet formally announced a departure from Barcelona.