Thursday, June 01, 2017

Villains On The Road

Which collective in Mallorca is the greatest villain of all? Politicians? No, they're too much of an obvious and easy target. The wretches of Magalluf, Santa Ponsa and Playa de Palma who masquerade as prostitutes and can resort to pepper spraying victims in their pursuit of loot to pacify their mafia bosses? Quite probably they are the greatest.

They, the prostitutes, are villains of criminality. With certain other collectives there may be some issues of legality, but that's not the same thing. Legality or illegality is often a question of legal interpretation. Beating someone up, robbing him and being run by organised gangs carries no equivocation of interpretation. Or shouldn't, as oddly enough it can seem as though it does.

Let's consider three other groups. Hoteliers. Here is a collective which is castigated for its greed. They put up prices, invest the profits in luxurious all-inclusives in distant lands, pay employees meagre wages and butt heads with the heroic angels of the holiday rental sector. Villains. Well, possibly, but such generalising does rather fail to take into account the fact that the hoteliers have been the cause and conduit for much of Mallorca's wealth.

Then we have cyclists. These occupiers of drivers' territory, they are terrorisers of the road. They are without courtesy, without manners and, worst of all, they wear lycra. Their villainry is such that it is greater in the eyes of some than that of the hoteliers. This is villainry that brings with it venom and even hatred. Will they introduce cyclist hate crimes into the penal code at some point? Perhaps the legislators should, but there again they are politicians, and what do they know. But cyclists bring with them off-season employment and business. The villainry argument cannot accept that there are indeed cyclists who spread wealth rather than keep it hidden inside the lycra.

The third collective is taxi drivers. Oh dear, oh dear. This reviled group is the manifestation of rip-off, it exploits and seeks to maintain some form of cartel, it defies all attempts at transport reform, it is the antithesis of the "collaborative economy". Fine, but it costs to operate a taxi, there are regulations to abide by, and, strangely enough, some punters quite like taking a taxi.

While there can be justification for characterising these three groups as villains, there is also a good deal of irrationality. Villainry brooks no perspective. The cliché narratives are thus littered with greed, lycra and rip-off.

Justification comes when the villains act in a way that makes them their own worst enemies. The taxi drivers did just that last week. Stopping work at the airport for over three hours was no way to win over hearts and minds that had hardened because of their opposition to new bus services. The president of the travel agencies association was right to describe the action as pathetic. The fact that it took place on the evening before the government was due to approve its decree on touting for business on the public highway (a decree to clarify the situation to the taxi drivers' advantage) made it even less acceptable.

So, the taxi drivers, especially as the cyclists have mostly all gone, can now claim the number one villainry spot. Is there no sympathy for them? Personally, I have some, as I do for the hoteliers and cyclists. Ten thousand drivers from across the land marched on Madrid on Tuesday. Their protest was directed at so-called VTCs, vehicles with drivers, a specific form of transport into which Uber and Cabify are falling. In other words, they are not taxis; they are a category apart.

Neither Uber nor Cabify operates in Mallorca. Yet. In fact neither is particularly widespread on the mainland. Uber was ordered by the courts to stop operations at the end of 2014. It has since re-emerged as UberX under the VTC umbrella but is still very confined. The taxi drivers, though, fear the spread of both services, which is why they were protesting.

The problem for the taxi drivers is that their villainry is such that their critics cry competition and a dismantling of a form of monopoly. Uber is the über-example of competition on the roads in much the same way as Airbnb is in apartment buildings. While Airbnb is viewed as a villain in some quarters, it is hailed as a hero in others. Uber, at present, appears only to be a villain in the eyes of taxi drivers. Otherwise it is the people's hero, effecting the free marketing of transport.

However, these rival services exploit a situation not of the taxi-drivers' making. It is one of legislators and regulators who have so over-regulated the taxi sector that it can't adequately react even if it wanted to. Consider them villains if you must, but maybe it is the politicians who are indeed the greatest villains.

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