• Editorial, Nick Gibbs

Ibiza’s Pirate Taxi trade made national news this week with Spanish Channel Telecinco running a report of the widespread illegal business.

In the television report, which lasted almost a quarter of an hour, their undercover reporter questioned illegal taxi drivers and customers. He obtained testimony of inflated prices and the offer of additional illicit services—the supply of drugs and prostitution.

Despite the concerted efforts of Ibiza’s licenced taxi driver associations and various Government departments, the problem of illegal taxi services has never gone away and in peak season they are known to quite openly ply their trade outside nightclubs and at taxi ranks feeding off the often long queues of passengers.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the issue, it is another in a seemingly never ending stream of negative publicity for the island and that is most unwelcome. But before we accept the report as simple confirmation of an Ibizan problem of which we were already aware, I would like to take the issue back a step or two.

I have to concede to being at least a past pirate taxi user. Not for many a year, but as a frequent flyer tourist I used pirate taxis on quite a regular basis.

I remember our first as being from Salinas. Having easily got a cab down there we found ourselves stranded at the end of an afternoon. We had waited for at least a couple of hours at a bar on the road while the owners tried several times to call a cab, but always with a resigned assumption that none would come.  In the end, either because they took pity on us or wanted to close, they suggested calling a ‘friend’.

The illegal taxi that arrived would have gained a euro crash rating in the negative, but what the car lacked in airbags it made up for in big smiles and a happy atmosphere that I have rarely found in its legal counterpart.

From there on the illegal taxi became a relatively frequent resource, to a point it became a preference.

My experience was never one of hugely inflated prices and delivery into the hands of all manner of evil as testified by Telecinco’s reporter. It was one of the fare being a bit more expensive, but a journey home that included music, permission to continue smoking/drinking, and best of all one that lead to a good few after parties.

Though my own experience was several years ago, using the illegal taxi trade actually resulted in some great friendships that remain until this day.

Way back then I was not the slightest bit interested in the politics of Ibiza, the rights and wrongs of Taxi licensing. I was on holiday. The weeks of the year I wanted to enjoy myself, and a few euros more for an illegal cab from DC10 compared to the party-ending downer of hours in a shuffling queue was a no brainer. To put it in some balance if I were asked at the end of the night where I had felt most ripped off financially, or had been offered drugs most brazenly, my answer would always have been the ‘legitimate business’ of the nightclub, not the illegal taxi after the nightclub.

Also before we stereotype the illegal taxi driver as lowest of the low, how many of us happily pay to use unlicensed ’mates’ or so called concierge services to get us from a to b? OK the chap we’ve sometimes used to do an airport run for 25€ (20€ for residents), a chap well known and well used by many in our community,   may be able to offer no more by way of drugs than some Bisodol to aid a morning after kebab, but make no mistake—he is an illegal taxi driver. He has no permit, is technically uninsured, and is taking income that Ibiza’s licenced Taxi drivers demand is theirs by right. In practice what he does is very different to the man outside Space at 5am, but legally, there is no difference at all.

Back in my tourist days I had no qualms morally or legally. I remember illegal taxis as a friendly business operated mainly by South Americans and typically a boyfriend girlfriend couple as a way of earning enough to enjoy a party season in Ibiza. I entirely accept that this may have changed to be more ruthless and sinister operation now, as indeed have many aspects of life in Ibiza. But also I add a note of caution and prudent scepticism to this single ‘undercover’ report. I feel sure that any journalist who went out with the intention of showing illegal taxis to be all things evil could achieve enough soundbites to prove exactly that, and equally the opposite.

Something that has definitely not changed is the reason for using one in the first place. That being the sometimes impossibility of getting a licenced cab to take you where you wanted to go, or at best the mood-busting time it took to do so. Our evening at Salinas was nothing of an isolated incident. I remember a wait into the hours leaving the strip on a Manumission night. I remember a restauranteur taking us from Cas Serres into Ibiza Town personally rather than even try to call a cab. During the peak season it was not the exception but the norm.

Supply & Demand

So that brings us to the reason for the pirate taxi sub-sector to exist in the first place, that being a simple one of supply and demand.

Though the legal, licenced, taxi drivers object furiously to the pirate taxi trade, they seem to have a level of intransigence to any proposals to alleviate the widely recognised shortage of taxis during the tourist season.

It is as if they have some compelling hold over the island, some right to trade that even the big nightclubs with all their self-protectionism cannot command.

The Consell and local town halls tippy toe around them, scared to incur their wrath. But why are they above the law?

By example, let me give one situation I think every resident reader of this newspaper will be familiar with. Why are the legal taxis exempt from speeding restrictions? Why are they allowed to travel at whatever maximum speed brings them to within 6 inches of your rear bumper, and do so with absolute impunity? We all know they do this as much as we know the illegal taxis exist. But when have you ever seen an initiative from the town halls to curb taxi’s excessive speeding?

The argument, if you talk to one of them, is of maximising their trade during the busy period. But where else does that cut ice? Are the bars of the west end allowed to open with music playing until 6am because that is their busy period? No they are not. Can party boats flout safety legislation in the same way as they want to earn as much money as possible in August? No, they cannot.

This is the most publicly visible example of their seemingly self-adjudicated special status that puts them above the normal rules and regulations that the rest of us have to live and work by. It is an example most will be familiar with, but also I expect many people reading this will have heard as many hearsay examples as I have of  licenced taxi drivers behaving unprofessionally through to outrageously in their treatment of customers.

It is this psychosis they seem to hold Ibiza’s power masters under, which results in a shortage of taxis during the tourist season that in turn results in the demand for the illegal taxis that thrive in Ibiza.

I will concede to not knowing the historic intricacies of the Taxi driver’s arguments. But whatever they are it should not create a situation where their minds are totally closed to any changes in their working practices. We must remember that the consequence of the current situation is a tick against Ibiza as a destination for tourists.

How many times have you seen restaurant staff apologetically explain to visitors that there is no point them even trying to call a taxi as none will come. The bemusement on the faces of Ibiza’s tourists is understandable—I have never in all my travels been in a city or country where you can’t get a taxi.

Possible Solution?

It is never right to complain of a problem without having an idea of a potential solution, and so I give one here. It might not be perfect, but the point is the licenced, legal taxis will not even listen to ideas.

There are many months of the year when Ibiza’s taxi numbers are perfectly sufficient to meet demand.

In this respect it is accepted that the simple granting of more licences would have a detrimental effect to those currently earning their living from the ranks.

The demand for additional taxis is at its earliest from June, though in reality more solely in July and August.

I would contend that there are many regular citizens of Ibiza in regular jobs in the shops offices and industrial estates of the island, who hold sufficient knowledge of the island, and own vehicles fit for the task, that would welcome the opportunity of a month or two’s additional prime-time income working part time as a taxi.

This would give a boost to many a family who earn incomes at Spanish national ‘norms’ but incur Ibiza’s inflated living costs.

These temporary taxis could be regulated through tests based on their knowledge of the island and their vehicle. They could pay a licencing fee to cover full insurance and perhaps even an amount into the system that could be used to reduce the amount being paid by the full time, permanent, taxi drivers.

The outcome could be improved living conditions for local residents, improved quality standards for tourists, and lower operating costs for the licenced taxis. But in the context of the illegal pirate taxi debate they would also negate the demand for pirate taxis, and if there is no demand they wouldn’t exist.

In closing I ask who are the pirates? Ibiza’s legal taxi drivers seem to think they can take their plunder flying under the protection of a Government flag when it suits them, but completely disregard the law when it does not. They work as a crew and have no qualms holding an island under siege for their own self interests.

If the illegal taxi drivers have moved from the almost quaint image I have from years gone by to one of gang organised, drug and prostitution pushing criminals looking to rip our tourist visitors off at every opportunity, I would be the first to want to eradicate them.

But let us face facts, over a decade of concerted effort has done nothing to stop them, indeed if this undercover report is to be believed the problem has become worse.

The reason for their existence is the demand for their service, and the absolute intransigence of Ibiza’s legal  and licenced taxi drivers is the main reason that demand exists.

A perfect example of prevention being better than cure. Prevent the demand, and there is no problem we have to cure.