Uber thrived in LatAm despite fierce opposition

The cab-hailing company tripled their number of journeys during the first months of the year even when their permanence is subject of controversy.

LatAm is now Uber’s fastest growing region, the $51 billion company tripled its number of bookings only during the first four months of the year.

The massive growth in figures comes as a result of several factors. Firstly, it responds to a substantial penetration of smartphone ownership, which grows roughly at a rate of 22% every year, to the point where in 2015 there were nearly 156 million smartphone users.

Secondly, the poor public transport services and networks in the continent have given Uber the edge, as the service is much more convenient and safe.

However, Uber’s arrival into LatAm was difficult, and if they are to remain operational in the region they will have overcome tough challenges. Colombia issued them a $140,000 fine for providing “unauthorized taxi services, and the struggle keeps going as congress prevents its continual operation with all sorts of legal red tape, this in addition to the fierce (and often times violent) opposition from taxi unions.

In Mexico, the first country in LatAm where Uber started operations and their largest market in the region, the city of Guadalajara hosted an enormous taxi driver protest against the service which turned violent and evolved into a street riot, several Uber drivers were kidnapped at gunpoint.

Uber is facing much of the same troubles in Argentina, where a day after it started operations a local court ordered the Buenos Aires authorities to shut down Uber’s operations as taxi drivers took to the streets.

However, racking up over 2 million users a week, the tech startup’s business seems unaffected by the uproar. Their expansion into LatAm continues as they prepare to enter Puerto Rico, and already strategize about entering Venezuela, although political and economic turbulence mean the entrance at the moment is impossible.

Uber also plans to unveil their carpooling service UberPool in the region at the Rio Olympics in what they describe as a move towards “becoming part of the solution to road congestion”. This is particularly important as 4 of the 10 most congested cities in the world are in LatAm, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife.

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