I love Barcelona, except when Mobile World Congress, the city's largest annual trade show is in town. Prices go up. Transportation bogs down. Hotels are impossible to book, and even the restaurants pull out their MWC menus. So when I read this morning about the Catalan government passing a regulation that hinders the use of car hailing apps like Uber and Cabify I wasn't really surprised. The new regulation requires the drivers to wait 15 minutes before they pick up a passenger. This move has "protectionist" legislation written all over it as "protectionist colusion" between the taxi industry and government is nothing new at this time of year.
And it couldn't be better timed as the "delay" rule for pickups comes when the tech savvy, "I need my ride now" cultured audience is due to arrive a month from now for Mobile World Congress. By rolling out the regulation now, the commission that oversees transportation hopes to get Uber and Cabify to the bargaining table, by putting all kinds of pressure on the drivers to ask for help from Uber and Cabify, for the public to express how the loss of on-demand ride services impacts their ability to get around efficiently and so the taxi drivers can say how the decline in use of Uber and Cabify has helped them make a better living.
So while this is not the first time a government has sought to give into the wishes of the taxi cab industry, you have to commend their timing. Mobile World Congress, attracts over 105,000 attendees to Barcelona. That audience needs transportation options. This means Uber and Cabify drivers would have made major income that week. Considering the location of the venue, its distance from the best hotels, and the taxi lines that form to get to and from the venue it's a gold mine for taxi and ride hailing app drivers.
Add in the way meetings are held around the city and away from the venue, there's an obvious reasoning to the timing. Trade show attendes need to get around Barcelona, and they don't have time to wait. And with this new regulation that plays right into what the taxi drivers want.
What some likely have forgotten was MWC a few years back threatened to leave Barcelona. It was as recent as 2017 when the GSMA cited unrest in the region as grounds to possibly leave. But before that the city's taxi drivers fought for a fair bump associated with rides to and from the MWC facility. Basically if you were heading to the venue or being picked up at the venue an extra euro was tacked onto your ride. If you were picked up a few blocks away (if you could find a cab) you saved the euro.
Every industry in Barcelona finds a reason or excuse for their price increases during MWC. Hotels, especially premium ones, cite location, scarcity and the need to increase labor cost. Restaurants which on the average night of the year turn once to one and a half times at best cite the number of no shows, late arrivals and table lingerers who are conducting business. Since that business is worth a lot to the diners, the restauranteurs want their cut.
This is all a game, and it will playout of the next month. Likely there will be an 11th hour concession between Uber, Cabify and the government. There will be some agreement to provide some money to some fund that goes to the taxi drivers. MWC will make another concession that gives another Euro to the cabbies, and a larger holding area for the cabs will be established. A zone for Uber and Cabify will be established but like in airports, it will be a longer walk to where they can pick up, and they won't be allowed to "hover" nearby either.