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Only Libertarians Can Face Down Colombia’s Taxi-Union Cartels

By: Daniel Raisbeck - @DanielRaisbeck - Sep 14, 2015, 3:56 pm

EspañolThe latest development in the dismal anti-Uber saga in Colombia’s capital involves video footage of several taxi drivers dangerously cornering a car they believe is using the UberX app. They then proceed to bully the passenger and accuse her of using an “illegal” service.

The young woman breaks into tears as the taxi drivers forcibly and illegally attempt to remove her from the vehicle.

Many residents of Bogotá, who have become accustomed to the unsavory behavior of local taxi unions, are probably not surprised by these despicable acts: the thuggish, threatening tone; the harassment of a frightened young girl; and the unoriginal expletives directed at the Uber driver’s mother.

What is surprising, however, is the presence of a police officer at the scene, in sight of the camera throughout the video. He remains motionless for the entire 2 minutes and 51 seconds of intense bullying and insults. He even stands idly by as the young woman pleads for his help.

The inefficiency and utter lack of authority of the Bogotá police force becomes evident when the taxi-union thugs order the officer to call a “transit-police agent to fine” the car’s driver.

The taxi drivers know full well who’s in charge. They tell the woman, without hesitation, “[your driver] is an illegal (pirata), and we are putting an end to this, OK?”

At one point the woman asks them if they think it’s alright to resort to violence in this manner. “If we have to end illegality with violence, we’ll do it,” one of the taxi drivers coolly replies.

The law of the jungle is what prevails in Bogotá, as Thucydides described: “The strong do what they can, and the weak suffer what they must.”

But not all hope is lost.

During my campaign for mayor, I have defended ride-sharing apps, like Uber, Lyft, Curb, and other competitors, at every opportunity. While other candidates remain silent on the issue, I continue to stand up for these companies, which allow consumers to choose whatever means of transportation they want and should be allowed to operate legally.

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But it is clear that this issue is not just about who provides the best and most useful service. These apps allow the people of Bogotá to circumvent powerful and violent taxi cartels, who would not be as powerful if not for the special privileges that politicians have granted them.

If taxi drivers have any reason at all to take justice into their own hands — which is completely unacceptable —  it is inability of heavyweight politicos to keep the promises they made in order to win their votes.

It’s worth remembering, for example, that during last year’s presidential campaign, President Juan Manuel Santos, Rafael Pardo, and Germán Vargas Lleras promised over 1,000 taxi drivers that they would “remove from the market the apps that promote unlawful behavior.”

But as the successful British entrepreneur Paul Graham said: “Uber is so obviously a good thing that you can measure how corrupt cities are by how hard they try to suppress it.”

Ultimately, Uber and other similar apps represent digital innovation and the empowerment of citizens at the expense of union mafias and special-interest groups.

A libertarian administration in Bogotá would welcome and foster fair competition between them, because free markets benefit consumers, and our policies focus on the consumer.

As for the taxis, they would be allowed to operate without paying the absurd taxes that are currently in place. We would begin by eliminating the license quotas that artificially inflate the price of a taxi license, and those who have already paid will receive tax breaks until they are fully compensated.

However, a license to operate a taxi in Bogotá will not mean carte blanche to provide low-quality service, scare innocent people, or boss the police around. We would roll out a ratings system similar to Uber, allowing users to rate taxi drivers. Those who do not maintain high-quality standards will lose their right to operate a taxi.

Regarding the police, we will follow the example of former Mayor Antanas Mockus and send officers to be trained in universities, where they will learn how to peacefully solve problems. This video is proof that a return to a true civic culture is essential for the safety of Bogotá residents.

Translated by Adam Dubove and Guillermo Jimenez.

Daniel Raisbeck Daniel Raisbeck

Daniel Raisbeck is the PanAm Post's Chief Editor. He ran for Mayor of Bogotá in 2015 as an independent candidate. Follow him @DanielRaisbeck.