Uber is expanding its presence in Spain by launching a licensed service on the country’s southern Costa del Sol coastline — ahead of the summer season when the region draws in millions of international tourists.
Last year the tourist hotspot pulled in some 12.5M visitors. Clearly Uber wants to cut itself a chunk of that business, as well as be able to cater to any existing users when they go on holiday to the region.
The company says some 150,000 people have opened its app in Spain’s Costa del Sol region over the past three years, illustrating how location-based app services can also generate freebie business intelligence.
“With the launch of UberX in time for the busy summer season, we are thrilled to bring on-demand transportation to the Costa del Sol,” an Uber spokeswoman told us. “We are committed to being a true partner to the cities of this famous tourist region for the long term.”
The UberX professional licensed driver service will launch in early June, and will cover more than 60km — including the coastal cities of Marbella, Malaga, Torremolinos, Benalmadena, Fuengirola and Mijas.
The company also confirmed the service will run year round, though presumably driver numbers are likely to fluctuate to reflect seasonal demand. Uber has previously used local jobs startups, such as Jobandtalent, to recruit local drivers for its services.
Elsewhere in Europe Uber also already offers ride-hailing services in the Portuguese tourist region of the Algarve, Split/Dubrovnik in Croatia, Nice in France and Zandvoort in the Netherlands.
The Costa del Sol expansion comes a few months after Uber returned to Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region — offering a licensed taxi service there after buying up private hire vehicle licenses from a local operator.
Barcelona is a year-round tourist hotspot, and also pulls in scores of tech industry and business visitors thanks also to generous conference facilities — making it another attractive location for Uber to ply its trade in Spain, in spite of local taxi industry hostility.
Indeed, it was a 2014 legal challenge by a Barcelona taxi industry association to Uber’s unlicensed UberPop service that led to Europe’s top court to rule last year that Uber is a transport service, meaning the company has to comply with EU Member States’ individual transportation regulations — and can’t simply claim it’s a technology platform to circumvent regulators as it did in its early expansionist phase.
In recent years Uber has been reconfiguring where and how it operates in Europe, with a series of market pauses or exits — such as in Greece, Norway and Denmark. While last year in Finland it suspended its main UberPop service to wait for a new law to come in. Earlier this year it also parked a service in Morocco. But new service launches in Spain show it’s not retreating everywhere.
While Uber is only offering a professional licensed driver service in Spain — also relaunching with this service in the country’s capital city Madrid, two years ago — taxi drivers argue that local regulations continue to be flouted because there are more licensed vehicles on the road than the official ratio allows.
The ratio is supposed to be 30 taxis to every licensed vehicle but the National Markets and Competition Commission has encouraged a relaxing of licensing rules. So Uber continues to be a target for taxi industry action, including co-ordinated strikes in major cities over what drivers dubs unfair and exploitative practices.