Uber vs Mexico City’s Transit Police

Recently, I had my first Uber taxi experience, as well as my first experience of police corruption in Mexico city.

We had to get to the Mexico City airport. Our AirBnB host sang Uber’s praises. He would pay the taxi through his account. I would reimburse him in pesos. We would only need to call about six minutes before an Uber came. The driver would be dressed in jacket and tie, we would know all about him before he arrived since he had been thoroughly screened by the company, we would see his photo and know the license number of his car. We would each get a free bottle of water.

We waited at the corner of Motolinía and Avenida Francisco Madero. Various taxis slowed, offering rides. We waved them on. That may have been the tip off. Finally, Luis came, in a little red car, clean, new, and with the right license number. We loaded our luggage. Luis asked what terminal. We didn’t know. I got out the piece of paper with the flight information. There was no mention of the terminal. Our host looked it up in a flash with his smart phone. Terminal 1. A good minute had gone by. We got in the car. A Transit Police pulled in in front of us with his motorcycle, boxing us in. He came to the driver’s window. We had, he said, committed an infraction and weren’t going anywhere. Our host, a rational man, began to protest. What did he mean, we had just stopped to load baggage, that’s what you do when you’re going to the airport. The policeman said we would have to wait until his commanding officer got there. Out of thin air, a Transit Police pickup pulled up next to us. A female officer got out of the passenger seat and turned to the pickup’s bed. There she had a whole tangle of wheel boots, linked by cables, to incapacitate the Uber taxi. I got out. I told her we were on our way to the airport, we had a flight to catch, clearly we were tourists. She ignored me. Our host ran down to the middle of the next block, up-traffic, to consult with other police who had gathered there with their squad cars. I could see about three different flashing police lights. I assumed their activity had to do with ours, and it looked menacing. Our host ran back. He opened the truck of the Uber.

“There, look at the bags,” he said to the woman. “See, they’re going to the airport.”

The female officer ignored him and began to fumble with her nest of cables and wheel boots.

Our host looked at me. “Get in the car!”

I opened the door. Our driver—quiet the whole time—had been saying something to the motorcycle officer. He turned back toward me and commanded, “Get in!”

He started the car and began to back away from the motorcycle that blocked us. I wasn’t sure what was going to happen. He pulled out and gunned it. D. turned around to wave good-bye to our host. I turned too and could see he was still arguing with the police.

“What happened?” I asked our driver.

“I told him he would have to pay for the flights if you missed them.”

After a pause, I asked, “Did they know you were going to pick us up?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So the police are with the taxi drivers and anti-Uber?”

He nodded, yes, that’s what was happening.

He held up a small bottle of water. Would I like one? I said I would. D. thanked him and said no.

While I drank my free water, I contemplated what seemed like a  dark alliance between the police and the spread of normal taxis. I didn’t understand it, especially since, according to Luis our driver, Uber paid the same amount of taxes as the regular taxis: 2%! and that, like everything else, it had to do with mafias of control and was, of course, a kind of anarchic harassment. It turns out, however, that the matter is much more complicated and that Uber actually casts a long shadow, and that our host was wrong and the Transit police, right. For an intelligent discussion, scroll down to the Laura Flanders interview with a representative of non-Uber taxi drivers in an American city. I find her remarks very persuasive: http://www.telesurtv.net/…/Mexico-City-Set-to-Regulate…

8 thoughts on “Uber vs Mexico City’s Transit Police

  1. Taxis have the right to load and unload, and have to be clearly marked as taxis… which Uber — being private transit — does not: even under the existing traffic code (the new one going into effect in December doesn’t change this). I don’t see “corruption” here, but a perfectly legitimate function by the transit police. We do have taxis that can be dispatched by phone (including “smart phones”) and if your AirBNB host didn’t know that, it’s because of a better marketing campaign by those foreign “piratas” than any conspiracy between the police and taxistas. Though, I wouldn’t blame the cops fore being more zealous than usual when it came to protecting the legitimate rights of Mexican workers and employers over foreign capitalists who pay a pittance to Mexicans and expatriate their profits.

      1. The real profits go, as with any foreign corporation, to their tax haven headquarters. Technically, Uber drivers are independent contractors, as are the “franchisees” (who in turn, are not “hiring” drivers, but only contracting with independent drivers). As you may know, there is no road test for a DF drivers´license, but there is for a taxi driver´s license. I don’t see much difference between Uber and Kelly Girl, except that when you work for Kelly, they don´t expect you to provide your own typewriter.

  2. Hi Sterling,Does Uber really pay the same taxes in Mexico as do taxis?It certainly doesn’t in Canada and the U.S. which is why the taxi companies here bitterly resent the unfair competition.Jean

    1. The Uber driver, who seemed sincere and honest in all the ways I could see, said they paid the same 2% tax (!) as the regular taxis. Yours is a good question, and I don’t really know how to check on it. Thanks for your comment!

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