MAJOR UPDATE: WOW. Turns out that this information about Uber is NOT true. It was misinformation spread by the head of the tourist taxi drivers in a press conference, duping official press sources such as Telemetro, which I used as the basis of my reporting. They told the media had agreed to this, which in fact the government had not. This is what taxi drivers have requested of the government in their meeting today with Varela, but the government has not agreed to anything as of yet and has not made any restrictions on Uber service. Apologies for the misinformation. And apologies to Varela for accusing him of doing something he didn’t.
If this is how the taxi drivers were hoping to enamor themselves to the public. It’s failed. Miserably. Viva el Uber.
Here’s the official communication from the transit authority:
The original story, which is now incorrect, is below.
In a shock announcement by the administration of Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, in response to the latest protest by taxi drivers, Uber will be prohibited from operating in airports, hotels, and malls in Panama City. This ban goes into effect on Tuesday, May 16th, 2017.
It is unclear if this affects just pick up at these locations, or if it will affect drop off as well. Either way it is a big change to the way that a lot of expats and Panamanians travel, as Uber has become an increasingly popular alternative to Panamanian taxis. For some users, it will be easy to get around as you can just walk down the street from the mall or hotel to get picked up by an Uber. However for people with a lot of luggage or shopping bags, etc. This makes using an Uber significantly more difficult.
It seems no accident that these specific locations were picked, as they are the ones where using Uber is usually the most beneficial. Taxis frequently price gauge at malls and especially hotels, to target vulnerable tourists who don’t know any better and have other ways to get around. For example, from a hotel, a taxi will often charge $12-$15 for what would normally be a $2-$3 ride with an Uber. These new restrictions will put money into the pocket of taxi drivers, but is overall very bad for consumers and the people of Panama as a whole.
This is a very disappointing decision by the Varela administration, and one of a series as of late that is making Panama less appealing to tourists and foreigners. While I do think most Panamanian taxi drivers do an overall good job, there are enough of them that are rude, poorly maintain their cars, pick up other passengers during your fare, refuse to go certain routes, price gouge foreigners, or even commit crimes or acts of violence against their passengers (rare, but it does happen), that taking cabs is an undesirable experience for many foreigners. This is especially foreign women, who are more often the subjects of either price gouging or unwanted advances by taxi drivers.
Hopefully pressure from both Uber drivers and the Panamanian public, who has increasingly been relying on Uber, will put pressure on the administration to reverse this decision. I can only speak for myself, but this decision won’t make me any more likely to use a taxi. But it may make me more likely to not shop as much at malls, or go to restaurants in hotels, or engage in commercial activity in areas where Uber is now prohibited.