More than a year after being banned in Spain, Uber returns to the country today with its official Madrid launch and a new tactic under its belt: compliance.
Uber was forced out of Madrid back in late 2014 following pressure and protests from local taxi groups — a familiar story for Uber around the world. But rather than carrying on regardless — and paying fines on behalf of its drivers as it has done elsewhere — Uber has officially absented itself from Spain in the intervening months. Until today.
— Uber España (@Uber_ES) March 30, 2016
However, Uber isn’t going in gung-ho with its full suite of services, such as the controversial UberPop that lets anyone who owns a car become a driver. No, Madrid’s tourists and residents will only be able to use professional, licensed drivers through UberX, at least for now.
It’s a notable move by Uber, given that Madrid is among Europe’s biggest cities, but it’s also indicative of Uber’s growing willingness to work with local authorities. In the past, Uber has often gone against the grain and continued operation despite local authorities’ insistence that it pull out. In Australia and France, for example, Uber has continued to offer services in defiance of regulators and reportedly paid fines on behalf of its drivers. The general idea has been to gain traction and mindshare so that the will of the public sits firmly on its side.
But as we saw with the green light in Moscow earlier this month, Uber is taking a more “softly softly” approach by complying with legislation. As part of the compromise, the etaxi company will only use registered taxi drivers in the Russian capital. But compliance is only a small part of the story here — Uber recognizes that the best way to gain inroads is to keep the law firmly on its side and work its way into the public consciousness one small step at a time. So, for now, that means no ridesharing services in some markets.
With the UberX Madrid launch, the Californian company’s presence in the Spanish capital will be limited — after all, there are only so many licenses allowed in the marketplace. This is what Uber refers to as an “artificial cap” that “prevent both people who want to be drivers from doing so and congestion-cutting options like uberPool, which require a certain scale, from being viable,” as the company stated in a blog post. It continued:
We understand that technology can be disruptive, especially when changes are happening as quickly as they are today. At the same time, the status quo is clearly not serving the interests of passengers, drivers or their cities in Spain or in many other places around the world. That’s why we have a duty to work in partnership with the countries where we operate. Together we can ensure that Uber and the on-demand economy increase transportation choices, deliver new opportunities for drivers, and improve the lives of people in cities everywhere.
Despite its frustrations, Uber is seemingly more willing to play ball than it has been at times in the past. After the violent protests that rocked France, leading to the arrest of two Uber executives, the company doesn’t need any more bad PR. And that’s why it recognizes the duty to “work in partnership” with officials in the countries where it operates. That’s not to say it won’t stop lobbying for change, of course, but it seems more willing to wait until such changes are rubber-stamped before pushing more buttons.