While the State Department has said transportation apps “generally offer another safe alternative to taxis,” recent disputes between drivers for the apps and taxi unions “have occasionally turned violent, resulting in injuries to U.S. citizens in some instances,” the alert read.
The travel alert came as the region’s licensed taxi drivers have been protesting by blocking the road to Cancun’s hotel zone, leading to tourists abandoning rides to walk to the airport or get escorted by police, La Jornada newspaper reported.
Y pese a la alerta de viaje impuesta por Estados Unidos, así las cosas en Cancún, sometida por la mafia de taxistas.
Bloquean la zona hotelera, provocando que decenas de turistas decidieran caminar rumbo al aeropuerto.
— Joaquín López-Dóriga (@lopezdoriga) January 23, 2023
According to Cecilia Román Quijas, head of safety communications for Uber Mexico, the company has teams in the United States and Mexico dedicated to working with police and providing customers 24/7 support.
Román said in an email it’s important to clarify that the alert was specific to Cancún because of “widely publicized incidents in a very specific tourist destination.” She pointed to the State Department’s regular travel advisories, which she said “repeatedly refer to Uber as a safe alternative throughout the country.”
Natalia de la Rosa Hilario, a food writer and operations leader for the Mexico food-tour company Club Tengo Hambre, says conflict between the local taxi industry and Uber are not new. With protests going back nearly a decade, “it started since Uber got to Mexico,” she said.
Frank Harrison, regional security director for the Americas at World Travel Protection, a travel risk-management company, agreed that the current issues in Cancún and Quintana Roo are just the latest flash point in the nationwide anti-Uber sentiment within the taxi industry.
De la Rosa Hilario said there are advantages to using Uber for travelers visiting Mexico, pointing out the app can feel safer for women because the driver is tracked, you can see where you’re going and you don’t have to exchange cash.
But “don’t get me wrong — Uber is not the best, either,” de la Rosa Hilario said. She recognizes that similar start-ups use surge-pricing practices and can threaten licensed taxi drivers’ livelihood.
Román said that the safety features in Uber’s U.S. app are also available to riders and drivers in Mexico. That includes an in-app emergency button to call 911, Share My Trip and RideCheck (which senses long delays or route deviations), among others.
Harrison said while Uber is a preferred transportation option for many American travelers, anyone using the app or similar services need to understand the local sentiment. Being a taxi company or a driver requires licensing, fees and inspections, Harrison noted. He added that drivers take pride in their service and may resent transportation start-ups.
While Harrison said he prefers using licensed taxi drivers when traveling — they can be a helpful source of local information and recommendations — he also recommends checking to see whether your hotel has a courtesy shuttle or can arrange a pickup for you with a trusted driver.
Unfortunately, Harrison said, there are issues with both fake Ubers and taxis to be wary of in Mexico. If you’ve discovered you’re dealing with a bad ride, he said, you should get out of the car, attempt to take a picture of the vehicle plate and report it to the local tourist police.
In an email to The Post, a State Department spokesperson reiterated the information in the alert and encouraged anyone planning a trip to Mexico to read the full travel advisory for the country on its website.
“We also encourage U.S. citizens traveling overseas to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP.state.gov) to receive important messages about their destination(s) directly, including timely Alerts and updates to Travel Advisories,” the email said.