SANTIAGO – Several dozen taxi drivers turned out Wednesday in the Chilean capital to protest against the ride-hailing service Uber, which earlier this week announced a pilot plan to allow users to pay for their trips in cash.
The caravan of taxis gathered in downtown Santiago amid a heavy police presence to prevent traffic tie-ups, such as those that occurred last May when thousands of taxi drivers demonstrated.
The leaders of the taxi drivers’ unions demanded the government’s support and said that Uber’s cash-payment plan affects them even more directly than the service itself.
“We’re being made defenseless by the government. Really, the government is leaving us to the side by protecting this illegality,” Andres Torrejon, the executive secretary of Coditach, the taxi unions’ coordinating body, told BioBio radio.
Uber announced on Tuesday that starting next Monday half of all users registered in Chile, some 260,000 people, will have the option of paying for their rides in cash, handing the money directly to the drivers.
To date, Uber had required that customers charge their rides to previously registered credit cards.
The firm said that the pilot plan, if popular with the public, will be expanded to all Chilean users over the next few months.
The announcement outraged traditional taxi drivers, who in recent months have staged several protests against the U.S.-based Uber, which they accuse of unfair competition.
Some taxi drivers decided to take the law into their own hands and attacked or confronted drivers whom they accused of working for Uber or Cabify, a similar service.
The latest violent episode came on Wednesday morning when a vehicle providing Uber services got into a spectacular crash in eastern Santiago after being pursued by a group of taxi drivers.
The Chilean government considers Uber to be illegal and is taking measures such as audits to prevent vehicles from providing the service, although it cannot actually stop the firm from operating.
The government several months ago convened a panel of experts to study the situation of ride-hailing services and possibly making them legal, but the group’s conclusions have not yet been made known.