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More complaints are made in the peak tourism months. Salvador Salas
Tensions grow at Malaga Airport as presence of 'pirate' taxis increases
Transport

Tensions grow at Malaga Airport as presence of 'pirate' taxis increases

Latest police action is not enough according to official taxi drivers, who claim the unlicensed drivers are organised mafias, set up with 'scouts' and 'informers'

Chus Heredia

Malaga

Monday, 13 May 2024

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“It was February 2014, when I filed my first complaint. And I hadn’t even been president of [taxi association] Élite Costa del Sol for two months,” said Guillermo Díaz, an experienced taxi driver, who pointed out that ‘pirate’, or unlicensed, vehicles, have multiplied, especially at Malaga Airport.

A decade ago, he added, there were around four of five. Now we have detected 40, most of them North Africans, he said.The issue of piracy in the sector is not new but it started to flare up in 2019. Now, tension in the arrivals terminal area has reached a peak.

“They began to realise that the airport, with the growth that it was experiencing, was a bonanza,” said Díaz, who pointed out that organised groups are operating with “scouts” who target unaware tourists. “They are looking for people carrying golf clubs or those who are going to make longer journeys. They also have informers who warn of police presence,” he said.

Awaiting authorisation

“Not a day goes by that we don’t see them,” Díaz said. He criticised the distance between the arrivals exit, where passengers emerge from the airport, and the taxi rank, although at least now it is well signposted, in his opinion: “We went for eight years without a single sign.” Díaz said that in places such as Madrid and Barcelona, this situation is tackled with volunteer taxi drivers who act as informers with an easily identifiable jacket and open communication with the authorities. Díaz said there is a similar proposal in Malaga awaiting authorisation.

“It would be something that would not cost anyone any money. And, mind you, we are talking about people with families to support having to dedicate ourselves to this. There are 1,500 registered taxi drivers. This could be solved with police inspection and security guards at the entrance,” he said.

Rising tension

Salvador Gómez, also from associations Aumat and Élite, corroborated these statements and the numbers. At least 32 vehicles are involved in the pirate network. “With private security to remove them, we would be much better off,” he said.

President of Aumat Miguel Ángel Martín said there is rising tension. “We have attended many trials of colleagues to whom we have given legal advice from our association. I personally had a trial on 4 December, I was verbally assaulted by a pirate who told me, verbatim, that he was going to kill me because I called him out for illegally picking up [passengers],” he said.

“They tend to be very aggressive and are becoming more confrontational. Also the woman at the information desk that we have for the Costa del Sol Taxi Confederation has been assaulted. She has already filed three complaints. Aumat accompanies the taxi drivers in the trials that are held and we go into the courtroom so they feel protected and supported,” Martín added.

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Taxi costs

The taxi associations complain about the lack of action from the authorities and say they are still waiting to have a meeting with the government officials: “We do not understand how it is possible, given the sensitivity of the matter and what our collective is exposed to at the airport, that they have not given us this meeting. This is the third time we have requested it.”

Martín said, as in almost all areas, the costs, both fixed and variable, that a taxi driver must face are high: the cost of the vehicle, paying off the loan to pay for the licence, self-employment, social security, fuel, maintenance and taxes. It is difficult to make an estimate because it is a highly variable figure, but it is certainly much higher than the costs of pirate taxis, which are limited to the vehicle and fuel.

“Vehicle insurance has gone up a lot. It is a national problem. The companies don’t want us because the fact that VTCs [Uber-type private hire cars] have so many accidents has put us in the same boat and has had negative repercussions for the taxi sector. Sometimes we have to insure with the consortium because the companies don’t want us,” he said.

They are willing to reoffend

Pirate taxi drivers get a fine when they are caught but they soon reoffend. “I’ve seen everything over the years. For example, they come with their families with empty suitcases to pretend they are visitors and offer tourists a shared journey and expenses,” Díaz added.

They can raise more than 100 euros (or pounds) per trip. Marbella, Estepona or Gibraltar are some of their favourite destinations. They have no licence and no permit. Nor do they pay self-employment or other taxes.

“The difficulty is catching them in the act. They can always claim that they are taking a family member,” said the Local Police, who have started a new surveillance operation.

Police intervention

So far this year, officers have carried out more than 1,500 inspections, resulting in 110 fines imposed on VTCs for non-compliance with current regulations. In addition, the four vehicle owners have been reported for carrying out passenger transport activities without a licence or municipal authorisation. The police also impounded the vehicles which remain in storage until the drivers pay a 4,001-euro fine.

Every year police presence is reinforced around the airport as the number of flights increases, with both uniformed and plainclothes officers deployed.

In terms of VTCs, 98 of the 110 complaints this year were registered at the airport. There, in 2023, they reached 465. The main offences are lacking or failing to fill in the passenger contract logbook (minor offence with a fine of between 201 and 300 euros) or getting customers without prior booking in high demand locations (serious offence, 601 euros), although there are also reports of complaints for lack of insurance or lack of the obligatory sign they have authorisation to drive (from 301 to 400 euros).

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