Protests staged by several thousand taxi drivers in Rio de Janeiro against Uber on July 24 backfired, as the luxury taxi service became the most-downloaded app on Itunes Brazil immediately afterwards.
Taxi drivers in Brazil’s second largest city wanted to draw attention to what they perceive to be unfair competition from Uber, largely because Uber drivers do not pay the same fees and taxes as their traditional competitors.
Protesting drivers formed a chain of cars, blocking one of the main roads providing access to the South Zone of the city, Aterro do Flamengo.
Uber responded by offering their members two free taxi rides up to the value of 50 real (approximately $15) on the day of the protest, this saw the company surge in popularity from 78 to first position on the Itunes download chart by the evening of the protest.
Uber works by pinpointing users’ locations through GPS and sending a nearby taxi to pick them up. Users choose the model of the car they would like and pay for the ride cash-free through the app’s payment system.
Founded in 2009, and launched in Brazil in 2014, Uber is valued at over $50 billion, making it the highest valued private technology company of all time. It is well-established in the United States and increasing its presence, and facing local backlash, in cities across Latin America.
Uber currently operates in 11 cities in Latin America: across Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Panama and Peru.
Rio, Thank You x 20
Following the Rio de Janeiro launch and the taxi driver protest, the company published an image on its website with the message, “Rio, Obrigado 20x”, (Rio, Thank you x 20) and the hashtag #ORioNaoPara (Rio Doesn’t Stop), celebrating a twenty-fold increase in their average rate of app registrations.
The accompanying press release lauded Uber as an innovative response to changing transport demands in the city.
“Everyone should participate in the process of choosing ways to build better and more intelligent cities. Getting to know Uber is part of this project.”
Rio residents vent frustrations
The strike, widely covered in the Brazilian media, provided an opportunity for members of the public to vent their frustrations at taxi drivers in Rio de Janeiro, often accused of refusing to take passengers for short journeys or to certain areas of the city. Porta dos Fundos, Brazil’s most popular comedy group, have frequently satirized the behavior of Rio taxi drivers in videos with millions of views on Youtube.
Another complaint was visible on the “Maré Vive” Facebook page which acts as a forum for residents of one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest complexes of favelas, home to over 100,000 people. The page saw lively discussion on the taxi/Uber conflict, with many complaining that favela residents are often ignored by the taxi market.
In the words of one anonymous Maré resident, “For me it makes no difference; whenever I try and get a taxi and say I’m going to Maré the driver makes a face, and many straight out refuse to take me.” He assumed that an Uber driver would react the same way.
Many Rio de Janeiro residents hope the spotlight on taxis and transport in general will help improve the service in the city, notorious for its congestion and high transport prices.