Lights in the Night

Una parada de taxis en Sevilla / GRACE MORRIS

In this first report on night workers in Seville, taxi driver Marco knows the difficulties of this particular shift. But none of them worries him as much as the appearance of VTC companies (Tourism Vehicles with Driver), which are endangering the survival of taxis.

“Bringing money home, that is the hardest. The hardest day in and day out is that…”

Marco doesn’t know where he is going tonight. He doesn’t know who he is going to meet or if those people will be nice, drunk, or worse. Marco taps the steering wheel with a calm, slow pace, perhaps tired, not nervously. The street lights are reflected in turns on his face: the red of car brake lights, the green of stoplights, the yellow of the street lamps. His eyes are tired and his wrinkles give him the appearance of an older man. At each stop he makes, he looks out the window and gets lost in some other point outside his car, sighs, or looks at his phone, checking for a WhatsApp or possibly for some phone call. He lives constantly waiting: waiting for the light to change, for clients to call his taxi, for the night to end. But other times, his night is not like tonight, a night of waiting. Sometimes, he can barely stop his car. 

“When there is a lot of work you can’t stop the car and when you show up you are not looking for people who want to use the taxi.”

Marco is a Seville taxi driver, who has lived in Seville for his entire life and now has his own family in Seville, as well. He recognizes that his job is not an easy one, especially when he works at night. But he has no choice but to do so. “What’s good about working at night is that there’s more people, but there’s also a down side. Too many drunk people, or those who look really bad.” Although perhaps he loses money, Marco does not pick these people. He also avoids certain neighborhoods  who may be problematic at night. “Los Pajaritos, las Tres Mil Viviendas… Some of us prefer not to venture there. Though it is true that some cities are more dangerous than Seville. In fact, only a few taxis have the protection screen installed”, says Marco. 

His phone rings on the dashboard showing the name of a woman, Marco’s wife. He raises his hand as if to say ‘one moment,’ and answers. Marco’s family is supportive and agrees with him that while the work of a taxi driver is very hard and carries the risk of the road, it is also a good job. “My family thinks the same as me… it’s not so bad.” Marco smiles, and at that moment, the yellow lights of the street lamps illuminate his face intensely. But after a moment, they dim, and Marco’s face darkens.

Despite the fact that Marco has the support of his family, supporting his  family economically  is always on his mind. In Spain, the average salary of a taxi driver is about 15,000 euros each year. However, the cost of living in Spain for a couple is approximately 24,700 euros a year, though it varies depending on exactly where you live in Spain. Marco has two children, a son, and a daughter, and is worried; having children is not cheap in Spain. 

But, Marco says, more than the dangers of the night, the biggest threat to taxi drivers for the last decade is the VTC (Tourism Vehicles with Driver) services, such as Uber and Cabify. Since Uber was founded in 2009, the introduction of private ride-share services has put taxi drivers’ jobs in danger. Marco believes Uber and Cabify to be threats because there are different rules for private services and public services such as taxis. “We are very regulated and they do whatever they want and nothing happens, and that’s the worst part of my job.” Then, a taxi driver behind Marco looks ahead and sees that there is no car in front of him. Marco opens the driver’s door and pushes the car to move it forward. In the past years, there has been a lot of tension between taxis and VTC services. Specifically, in Spain, taxi drivers have protested many times because they believe that ride-share services need more regulation in order to co-exist with the taxis. Recently, Uber and Cabify stopped serving some cities because the protests have persuaded the government  in some parts of Spain to change the regulations. Uber and Cabify left Barcelona, specifically, because the government created a new law that disallows Uber and Cabify to respond to requests less than 15 minutes after they are made. For taxi drivers, this is good because you can use a taxi immediately, but the VTC association estimated that these new rules will cost 3,000 people their jobs. Specifically in Seville, during La Feria in 2017, some Cabify cars were set on fire and 27 taxi drivers were placed under investigation for this crime and other crimes against shared-travel service. More recently, there have been protests in Barcelona, Valencia, Madrid, and Seville on the licenses of taxis and the VTC cars. Taxi drivers have been calling for fewer VTC licenses to be given. For every 30 taxi licenses, they want only one VTC license, but as of now, there are no rules in Spain on the number of licenses that can be given. While he does fear for the future of taxis, Marco wants to do his job until he retires.

“I have 20 years left before my retirement, if [Uber and Cabify] don’t make us disappear…”

Marco is waiting at a traffic light, like so many other times during the night. He sighs and looks out the window. The light changes to green and he moves forward. In the distance, someone on the sidewalk raises his hand. Marco goes to pick him up and take him wherever he needs to go. Afterward, he will continue to drive through the streets of Seville to earn a living, until morning comes. He will wait for the traffic lights to change, for customer to reserve a transfer, or for someone to stop him in the street. He will wait every night and morning, unless the taxis disappear.