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…