Published On: December 19, 2017

Taxi Alternatives Grow Rapidly

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Taxi service alternatives like Uber are becoming popular all over the world. In some cities like Curitiba, mayors are under pressure from the taxi drivers’ union to find a way to keep their customers out of Uber vehicles.

However, with an estimated 500 million rides in Brazil since it arrived, Uber shows no signs of going away. Recently, the Senate in Brasília debated a bill that seeks to regulate Uber and other car booking apps as forms of public transportation.

During the Senate debate, both Uber drivers and taxi drivers protested in favor of and against the bill. An Uber spokesman standing outside the Senate chamber took a blow to the face. “This is because Uber is destroying the lives of taxi drivers,” yelled the anonymous attacker.

Uber’s services, which work with a phone app that requires Internet phone access, arrived in Brazil a few years ago with the proliferation of smartphones. Today, Brazil is one of the world’s biggest markets for car booking apps and Uber’s second largest market outside of the US.



File illustration picture showing the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign

Uber and its smaller rivals, Cabify and 99, have been facing rising tensions. Uber was so concerned by the threat posed by the Brazilian Senate bill that new Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi made a last-minute trip to Brazil to lobby against it. He wore the yellow T-shirt of Brazil’s football team, mingled with Uber drivers, and met with the finance minister.

Dara’s efforts were ultimately successful, as the Senate demanded changes to a proposed law that Uber had declared “not a regulation but basically a prohibition.” For Uber, Brazil is a crucial market. São Paulo has more Uber trips in a day than New York City. The number of Uber drivers increased tenfold in the last year in Brazil.

With Uber and other taxi alternatives providing a valuable service to riders and employment to drivers at a time of 13 percent unemployment in Brazil, their popularity is expected to grow each year despite pressure from the taxi drivers’ union.


In addition to Uber and 99, ride-hailing startups that cater solely to women are catching on in Brazil, reflecting safety concerns. One of the new female mobile apps, FemiTaxi, has expanded into six Brazilian cities and is eyeing other Latin American markets. Competing app LadyDriver, which launched in São Paulo in March, recently expanded its operations to Rio in October.

Taxi alternative apps for female drivers and passengers are not unique to Brazil. All-women ride-hailing app See Jane Go launched in California in 2016, and rival Safr launched in Boston this year. Yet their rapid growth in cities such as São Paulo, Uber’s biggest market by rides, underscores rising concerns about public safety and efforts to shield women from the discomfort of a culture steeped in machismo.

Reports of sexually charged crimes such as attempted rape rose by double digits in São Paulo state in August from a year earlier, and high-profile cases of sexual assault on public buses have drawn attention to the issue of women’s safety.

women drivers

Subway systems in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Recife rolled out female-only train cars in the past year, taking up an idea pioneered by Rio more than a decade ago. “I think the problem of sexual harassment on public transport always existed, but it wasn’t discussed,” said Gabriela Correa, founder and CEO of LadyDriver. “Now women are standing up and taking initiatives like ours to seek safety.”

Uber and peers such as Spain’s Cabify and local rival 99, which is backed by China’s Didi Chuxing and Japan’s SoftBank Group, have also stepped up efforts to improve safety for drivers and passengers this year. Press representatives for all three apps said they were working to guarantee safe and comfortable experiences for riders. Uber said it runs background checks on drivers, bans riders who behave inappropriately, and allows users to share their location in real-time with friends and family.

[Research for this article comes from the Reuters news agency and the Financial Times.]

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