Uber has found fertile ground in Latin America, posting stronger growth in the region so far this year than in any other part of the world where the ride-hailing giant now operates.
Rodrigo Arevalo, Uber’s regional general manager for Latin America, recently told the Bloomberg news service that the company has seen use of its service triple in the first quarter of 2016. The expansion has come despite competition and other familiar headwinds, including cabbie protests that have turned violent.
Uber now operates in 45 cities and 10 countries in Latin America, including Mexico, Columbia, Brazil and, most recently, Argentina, and the company boasts more than 2 million users a week, according to Bloomberg.
Underlying Uber’s growth is Latin America is the fact that it has some of the most densely-populated and congested cities in the world, which are poorly served by public transit systems.
“There’s still lots to do in terms of access, so that we become available to the whole population and become part of the solution to road congestion,” Arevalo told Bloomberg.
The region is also suffering from severe economic woes, leading many to turn to driving for ride-hailing companies as a supplemental — or primary — income source.
Still, despite the growth, Arevalo is only close to “breaking even” in the region.
Uber has faced numerous bumps in the road as it has expanded in Latin America. Last month, a judge in Argentina ordered the company to cease operations in Buenos Aires, after cabbies jammed the streets of the capital to protest its alleged flouting of taxi regulations.
Similar protests have occurred across the region, including in Guadalajara, Mexico, where last year five Uber drivers were abducted and beaten near the international airport.
Uber has also faced fines in Columbia and other countries. Following a well-established pattern in the U.S., the San-Francisco-based company has started operating in cities well before regulators determine the legality of the service.
Mexico remains the largest market for Uber in the region, where it made its Latin American debut in Mexico City in July 2013. Today, the company has an estimated 1.2 million users in the country.
But Brazil is poised to overtake Mexico as Uber’s largest market, and the company plans to expand service in Rio de Janeiro ahead of the Olympic Games this summer, according to Uber exec Arevalo.
Uber also faces competition from Latin America’s own crop of ride-hailing companies. There’s Tappsi in Columbia, and Easy Taxi operates in 10 countries, including Argentina, Venezuela, Chile and Mexico. Those companies are estimated to have about half a million drivers.
In Brazil, 99Taxis is already well established, with an estimated 150,000 registered drivers.
Despite the challenges, Uber appears to be undaunted in its expansion in Latin America. The next stop for the company, according to Arevalo, is Puerto Rico.
Uber, which has been valued at more than $50 billion, has sought to muscle its way into emerging markets around the world, including China.