Mendoza has become the first province in Argentina to pass legislation regulating the services offered by ride-hailing taxi-app firms, such as Uber and Cabify.
Senators voted 24-14 on Wednesday to approve a new 'mobility' law that gives the green light to ride-hailing companies to begin operating in the province. A report by the AFP news agency said the vote had been carried with the support of senators aligned with the national ruling Cambiemos (Let's Change) coalition.
The news is a major boost for Uber. The ride-hailing firm's attempts to enter the transport market in Argentina has been far from smooth and Mendoza, a popular tourist spot famed for its wines, is the country's fifth-biggest province and potential large market.
“We are very excited about the government’s decision and the consensus reached by Mendoza’s lawmakers,” Uber’s general manager for the Southern Cone region, Mariano Otero, said in a statement. “We are convinced we can contribute, and we expect to be in the province soon, in order to do so.”
According to reports in local outlets, the government of Mendoza province will now move to define and issue regulations for the firms, paving the way for their entry into the market. That could be completed as early as September.
Uber's arrival into Argentina has been particularly tense, with taxi-drivers and labour unions regularly taking to the streets to protest the firm's attempts to enter the local transport market, echoing the San Francisco-based company's experiences across the world.
Although its services are prohibited in Argentina – with the new exception of in Mendoza province – the firm has been active in Buenos Aires City for more than two years, although it has faced legal troubles.
In 2016, a City court found that the firm was in violation of transportation and labour standards, while other judges have passed down moving to block its operations, for example by ordering Internet service providers to block access to its platform.
Uber, for its part, argues that there is no specific legislation that specifically outlaws their services. The firm says its drivers and the firm obey the law and pay taxes. In a recent statement, the firm argued that “a lack of specific regulation is not synonymous with prohibition.”
In addition to the legal battles, there have been multiple incidents of physical violence against Uber's drivers, with reports of attacks by vigilante taxi-drivers repeatedly making headlines.
Last month, one so-called caza uber ("Uber hunter") was convicted and fined for an attack on a driver, with the judge stripping the guilty party of his licence. The trial revealed how groups of taxi-drivers organise themselves via social networks to identify Uber drivers. They then threaten them, attempting to coerce the Silicon Valley start-up firm's employees into quitting.
In Mendoza, the approval of the new law in the chamber was contrasted with its fierce rejection by local businessmen, taxi-drivers and transport professionals, who rallied on the streets Tuesday morning to march from General San Martín park in the capital to the doors of the provincial Legislature. In Buenos Aires, taxi-drivers protested the decision outside the Mendozan government's office on Avenida Callao.