UPDATE (4/12/16): Uber has started operating in Buenos Aires today amidst fierce opposition from the taxi drivers.
This past summer, we had a chance to use Uber (and Lyft) while traveling around Boston and New York, and it quickly became apparent why everyone loves the service. For less than the price of a taxi (in many cases), you get a private car to come right to your location and take you wherever you want to go. It’s all billed to your saved credit card, so you don’t even have to worry about having cash, let alone a wallet.
While they have built a loyal following in many cities around the world, Buenos Aires is going to be a near impossible market for them to break into. Just look at what we’ve got for them!
- Bureaucracy: The bureaucracy here is horrible. Getting anything approved in this city will take years.
- Low Credit Card Use: Credit card use in Buenos Aires is minimal. People do not want the government to know what they are spending and do not like the idea of being tracked. Do you know how many people do not have wireless toll readers and would prefer to wait and pay cash for exactly this reason? Having them tie their credit card to a car ride app seems very unlikely.
- Poor Cell Data: Cell data coverage is horrible in Buenos Aires. Got a 3G connection? Lucky you. Keep that for your whole trip? Not likely.
- Low Smartphone Penetration: While Android smartphones are on the rise, Apple products are near-impossible to get here. Does Uber make a Blackberry app? Of course not. They may have to for Buenos Aires though.
- Strong Taxi/Remis Unions: The taxi unions in the city are quite strong and have a lot of political ties. Anything that takes away from their business will be met with fierce opposition.
- Safety/Crime: Tell an Argentine that you’re getting into the private car of someone you do not know and they’ll think you’re absolutely crazy. It took my Argentine wife a little while to get used to this idea with Uber and Lyft – and that was in New York and Boston!
- Insurance: Insurance here is tricky (like everything else). It’s very doubtful that Uber would be able to get insurance policies to cover their drivers like they do in many other cities around the world.
- Financial Instability: Uber exists to make money. They’d like to be able to get that money out of the country. Argentina makes that very difficult to do. Plus, with the difference between the official rate and blue rate life is even more difficult.
So, no Uber in Buenos Aires for the foreseeable future.
That being said, we do have some alternatives, though they rely on simply improving the existing taxi system rather than replacing it.
For the past month, I have been using EasyTaxi and it’s proven to be a much better way to get a taxi than hailing one on the street (especially at peak times and in the rain). You simply open the app, set the pickup location on the map and click “Call Taxi.” You can even specify that you want a taxi with a big trunk. A driver will respond and you’ll see their name, car model, license plate and approximate arrival time.
It’s safe and simple, plus it’s cheaper than calling a Radio Taxi as you do not pay the “6 meter clicks” extra that they charge. At the end of the trip, you simply pay the metered fare in cash like always. (SaferTaxi is a competitor app to EasyTaxi, and has just started to accept credit cards if you prefer that.)
So, is it easier than hailing a taxi? Yes.
Is it cheaper than calling a taxi? Yes.
Is it safer? A bit.
Do the taxi drivers like it? Yep. It costs them less per month than being a part of a Radio Taxi service.
Do they taxi unions like it? Nope. One of our drivers told us that union members have been booking trips and then issuing a fine to the drivers for using it. Ahhh… there’s always some friction when older more established and expensive ways get disrupted.
Know of any other services? Let us know in the comments.
UPDATE: Ok, so here is where EasyTaxi failed me – 9am on a rainy work day there were absolutely no taxis that would take my request. I tried with SaferTaxi too, and while they have a cool feature that allows you to “offer a tip” during peak times, no one took my $20-$30 peso tip. I think they have a lot less drivers than EasyTaxi as well.