Updated February 2020: In January 2020, Uber announced that it was pulling out of Colombia entirely due to ongoing legal battles. HOWEVER, in February 2020 (just a month later), Uber returned!
They finally found a legal loophole. Basically, the service operates in exactly the same way it always has, with the same application – they’re just changing the description of the service that they offer. Instead of a private car/taxi service, it’s now “Nuevo Uber”, a service where you can hire a car with a private driver. Essentially, each time you use Uber, you are entering into a contract with the driver to hire him/her and the car for the journey you’re taking, and the contract ends at the end of each journey. But in practice, it works exactly the same way as it always has.
The situation with Uber has changed and evolved so much since I first wrote this post, so I’m leaving the original post below, just for your information.
What’s the situation with Uber in Colombia?
In Colombia, Uber is technically illegal, even though the company voluntarily pays millions of pesos in VAT. This is largely due to lobbying by the yellow taxi drivers. Licensed taxi drivers claim that Uber drivers are unskilled, steal their customers and avoid paying costs that taxi owners have to pay. In Bogota, taxi drivers refer to Uber drivers as ‘pirates’ and have been known to vandalise their cars and get them into trouble with the police. But Uber is very popular with people and has a good reputation among users.
Why has Uber thrived in Bogota?
In previous posts, I have discussed the reputation of Bogota’s taxi drivers and given tips for taking taxis in Bogota. My final tip was – Choose Uber! To this day I still believe that Uber and similar services such as Cabify, Beat and DiDi are the best transportation option. Uber initially thrived in Bogota because the service offered by the yellow taxi drivers was often so poor. From aggressive behaviour to dangerous driving to tampered-with taxi-meters, I found there was almost always a problem whenever I travelled by taxi. In 2014, I became so tired of it that I started using a private car service that charged by the hour (this was in the days before Uber had taken off). It was much more expensive (30,000 pesos/hour) but I preferred to pay more and have a stress-free journey.
Enter Uber. It was as easy to order an Uber using the mobile app as it was to order a taxi in Bogota. The price is about the same as the yellow taxis (sometimes more, sometimes less depending on the price surge) and the service is usually good. From the beginning, Uber drivers in Bogota knew that all they had to do to gain clients was to offer the good service that most yellow taxi drivers weren’t offering. There was a boom in the number of people choosing to use Uber in Bogota instead of the taxis, and this led to protests and strikes by the taxi drivers, who demanded that Uber be made illegal.
Can I use Uber in Colombia if it’s illegal?
The short answer is yes. The law rarely presents much of an obstacle in Colombia and Uber drivers continue to operate as they always have done. They are just careful when it comes to stopping in areas where there are a lot of taxis or where there’s a police presence. The drivers will ask you to sit in the front passenger seat instead of in the back so that they don’t attract police attention. In the end, it’s the drivers who will get into trouble if they’re stopped by the police.
Why did they make Uber illegal?
The Transport Ministry in Colombia declared that Uber was offering a form of public transportation in private cars, but were not paying the license fees that yellow taxis (considered a form of public transport) have to pay. To operate a yellow taxi in Bogota, the taxi owners (often not the ones driving the taxis) have to pay around 90 million pesos (30,000 US dollars at the time of writing) for a taxi license. This is the main and possibly most valid argument against Uber in Bogota. Uber drivers only need a car, a mobile phone, the Uber app and they’re good to go. They pay 35% commission to Uber for each journey and keep the rest. Taxi owners feel that this is unfair given the amount they have to pay for their license.
Uber argues that the service they provide is a form of private transport using a platform (app) as an intermediary. As this category of transport does not exist in Colombia, Uber is lobbying for it to be introduced as a new legal category of public transport, which would be regulated by the Ministry of Transport. This process is still ongoing, so for the time being, the service remains illegal.
As far as taxi drivers are concerned, in my opinion it’s sour grapes. They claim that services like Uber are stealing their customers, but the reason Uber has done so well is because the service is far better. If the yellow taxi drivers want to win back business, all they need to do is behave better on the roads and offer a better service. After all, it’s usually easier to hail a taxi from the street than order and wait for an Uber. But people’s trust in taxi drivers fell to an all-time low around the time that Uber started up, and the taxi drivers will need to work hard to earn back that trust.
What are the alternatives to Uber?
In the last couple of years, other services that offer the same service as Uber have started up. In fact, most Uber drivers also use the other apps. These are
- Cabify – Cabify has recently bought EasyTaxi, an app you can use to order a yellow taxi. So you can use Cabify to order an Uber-type car or to order a yellow taxi.
- Beat – the new Uber
- DiDi – the newer Uber owned by a Chinese company.
Overall, I think Uber or one of the above services are the best option for getting around in Bogota if you don’t have a TransMilenio stop nearby. The advantages of Uber are that the cars are normally more comfortable than the cramped yellow taxis, the drivers usually drive better and there’s no way they can trick you by charging you a higher fare or by deliberately taking you on a longer route to your destination.
Are there any disadvantages to using Uber-type services in Bogota?
The disadvantage to users are the price surges, or tarifa dinámica, usually at rush hour or when there’s a greater demand for the service (e.g. when it’s raining). This means that you can end up paying double or even triple the fare you’d normally pay. I find that Uber is normally the most expensive, so try the other apps and see which is offering you the cheapest journey. With the yellow taxis there is a fixed night surcharge, Sunday surcharge and airport surcharge, but these always remain the same.
Another disadvantage is that some Uber drivers are inexperienced and as a result can get a bit lost if they’re not following the map on the app. I have been on journeys where the map or Waze wasn’t working properly and because the driver wasn’t familiar with my neighbourhood it took a very long time to get home.
Finally, Uber drivers will also almost always ask you to sit in the front passenger seat so that the car doesn’t look like an Uber. I don’t mind doing this if I’m travelling alone but it’s a bit annoying if I’m travelling with someone else and one person has to sit in the front and the other in the back.
Top tip for using Uber in Bogota
In my experience, if a driver has a rating of 4.6 or below, there will be some kind of problem with the service. The driver might be unfamiliar with the city and be driving with their phone on their lap, spending more time looking at the map than at the road; they might get a bit lost, making the journey time longer; they might be unfriendly or talk on their mobile phone while they’re driving; or they might drive recklessly. So usually if I get a driver with a rating of 4.6 or below, I will cancel the service straightaway and order again. Sometimes you’ll get the same driver again, so it will be up to you whether you want to accept or not. If it’s a short journey, you’re probably ok.
I’ve rarely had problems with drivers rated 4.7 or higher, with the exception of drivers that have a rating of 5.0. This usually indicates that they are new drivers, and so haven’t worked enough to get a representative rating yet. Just last week I took an Uber with a driver with a 5.0 rating and the guy had no idea where he was going and stopped in the middle of one of Bogota’s busiest roads when his phone fell on the floor. So in terms of rating, aim for 4.7-4.8.
If there’s a price surge, you might want to consider having the Cabify/EasyTaxi application on standby, and order a yellow taxi, so that you don’t end up paying an extortionate amount for your journey.
What’s been your experience of using Uber/Cabify/Beat/DiDi in Bogota? Are you a satisfied customer? Do you prefer the yellow taxis? Add your comments below!
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