In Quito last week, a group of taxi drivers blocked streets in the Historic Center for more than three days to request that the operation of digital transportation platforms —such as Uber, Cabify and Didi— be regularized. The taxi drivers’ claims have raised a question: Are these applications legal in the country?
The simple answer is no unless they have a valid qualification and a professional license.
What is a ‘qualifying’ title?
The digital transport platforms provide what is known as a Commercial Transport Service in the Land Transport, Traffic and Road Safety La . To provide this service, explains transportation expert Galo Cárdenas, drivers need a license issued by the National Agency for the Regulation and Control of Land Transportation, Traffic and Road Safety.
Land transport authorization titles are like operating contracts, operating permits and authorizations to operate. Without the qualifying title, no person should provide ground transportation services, says Cárdenas.
Why is a license required?
Galo Cárdenas explains that every taxi that wants to operate in Ecuador needs a license, which is granted by the municipalities. Before delivering them, the municipalities must carry out a study to determine the number of taxis needed in the city. From this report, the necessary quotas are opened so that the transport system is supplied.
The analysis to determine how many taxis are needed in each city is part of public policies defined by each administration and its objectives, explains Cárdenas. An example of this is when a city wants to reduce traffic, promote the use of bicycles and have more people use public transport; then the Municipality allows or not, that new quotas are given according to the needs of the city, says Cárdenas.
But he clarifies that with the appearance of the digital platforms it is difficult to have planning policies because they work outside the policies, and nobody knows how many taxis work with the Uber, Cafiby and Didi platforms. Cárdenas says that at the moment in Ecuador, we can see experiences from other countries that have reported that the impact of these platforms in the city is detrimental.
“It is negative because these platforms induce traffic and make more people go in private vehicles. And right now, the last thing the city needs is for more people to go in independent private vehicles, whether they are personal vehicles or taxis,” says Cárdenas.
Why is a professional license needed?
The Land Transportation, Transit and Road Safety Law establishes that, to provide taxi service, the driver must have a professional license because it is a service that consists of “transferring third parties in exchange for an economic consideration from one place to another within the intra-cantonal scope authorized for its operation.” The National Transit Agency (ANT) is in charge of issuing and regulating this type of license.
In the case of platforms like Uber, it is very difficult to enforce that drivers have a professional license. Therefore, their working conditions would be more lax than those for yellow taxi drivers, who must necessarily have a professional license.
But does the law authorize digital platforms?
It is true that the Land Transport, Transit and Road Safety Law, which came into force in 2021, did authorize the operation of digital transport platforms.
The law says that the operation of the platforms must be regularized by the Metropolitan and Municipal Decentralized Autonomous Governments, GAD, as long as “minimum environmental, quality and safety conditions” can be ensured.
Cárdenas says though that municipal ordinances cannot go above the law. In other words, even if each GAD issues an ordinance that regulates the operation of digital platforms, drivers must have a valid title and a professional license. Without that, platforms like Uber, Cabify, among others, should not work.
He clarifies that although the law approves the use of digital platforms, this presupposes that the vehicles are legal. That is to say, that the yellow taxis, already legalized, offer their services through digital platforms, as is the case in Cuenca with Asutaxi.
“If platforms like Uber were only used by legal taxis, they would be within what the law establishes because they offer the taxi service but through different channels—digital—,” says Cárdenas. But those who use private vehicles to take and bring passengers through these applications could be committing an illegality.
The transport expert explains that with the use of the platforms, the responsibility falls on the driver who uses this connection method with the user and not on the platforms.
“Uber also works illegally because it is making the people who provide the service do so illegally because they do not have a valid title or professional license, so they are irregular platforms,” says Cárdenas.
Is it possible to prohibit the use of these applications?
“The operation of these vehicles cannot be prohibited, and it is almost impossible,” says Cárdenas. And he explains that it is necessary to open the possibility that these platforms are first occupied by legal taxis. The second solution would be for the city to collect money for “the negative effect that these platforms cause on the environment, through a fee,” he says. The municipality must determine who pays this tax, the application, the user or the driver.