A Taxi Cooperative Proposes To Lower Private Transport Prices
A Taxi Cooperative Proposes To Lower Private Transport Prices
14ymedio, Havana, 17 May 2017 — In the midst of the morning hustle and
bustle, residents of Havana are trying to reach their destinations on
time, a challenge because of the inefficient public transport and the
sky high prices charged by the private operators of fixed-route
shared-ride taxi services. On Monday a new service, “Rutero taxis,” was
added to the transportation offerings, a cooperative that intends to
regulate the high costs of moving around Cuba’s largest city.
With a total of 60 Lada and Hyundai cars, in addition to five buses,
Cooperative Number 2 covers the route between La Lisa and the Fraternity
Park. For years, this route has been the fiefdom of the boteros – or
boatmen, as private taxi drivers are called – with their dilapidated but
efficient vehicles. In the private taxis, the complete trip costs 20
Cuban pesos, the equivalent of one day’s pay, while individual sections
of the trip cost 10 Cuban pesos, reduced rates recently imposed by the
The users perceive the new structure, under cooperative management, as a
response the high fares charged by private operators, rates that the
official media has called an “abuse on the population.” The Rutero
drivers charge 15 Cuban pesos for the full route and 5 for intermediate
The conflict between the State and the self-employed drivers has
experienced tense moments in recent months. Last February, the capital
authorities imposed flat rates on private taxi drivers’ journeys. The
decision was a brake on the law of supply and demand that has governed
the private transportation of passengers since it was authorized in the
The boteros responded by refusing to serve intermediate stops and
carrying only passengers who made the complete trip. Although they lack
an independent union, something prohibited by law, they closed ranks and
decreased the number of customers they served, to pressure local
authorities to withdraw the controls.
The result was an increase in the waiting time for transport and the
overwhelming of the bus stops by the avalanche of customers who could no
longer travel in the private fixed-route shared taxis, called
almendrónes after the almond-shape of the classic American cars commonly
used in the service. For weeks, Habaneros have felt as if the most
difficult days of the Special Period of the 90’s were coming back.
Now the taxi drivers are trying to alleviate that situation, with a
management structure halfway between private and state.
As of January there were 397 private cooperatives on the island, active
in food, personal and technical services. The state has promoted this
kind of economic management since 2012, but is still in the experimental
“This isn’t fair,” comments Rafael Vidal, a private driver who does not
look favorably on the new service. “Those who drive these cars do not
have to worry about breakdowns or getting parts, because they have a
workshop with all the spare parts and several mechanics at their
disposal,” protests the driver.
For Vidal, “the competition is unfair” because “the drivers do not pay
for the fuel, and although I have no evidence, I can assure you that the
traffic police will not come down on them like they do us.” One of the
most repeated complaints among private drivers is the harassment of
inspectors and police officers, sometimes in the form of extortion with
demands for money.
Sitting at the wheel of one of the yellow cars with a black roof that
the new cooperative operates, Reinier is pleased to be part of the
initiative. Previously he rendered his services through the state-owned
company Cubataxi and confirmed that getting fuel is no longer a problem
in his new job. “My Lada is the only one with a new engine and that is
why it uses oil. Yesterday I consumed 18 liters in seven roundtrips,” he
The cuts in the oil supply to the state sector keeps the drivers on
edge. Of the more than 100,000 barrels of oil a day that Cuba received
during the years when Hugo Chavez ruled Venezuela, the supply dropped to
87,000 in 2016, and now does not exceed 55,000, according to several
The drop in fuel imports has affected the informal gasoline market and
raised prices, one of the reasons that led the private drivers to
increase their fares.
Reinier believes that it is too early to “assert that there are
advantages” with the Rutero taxis, or whether they really relieve the
transport situation in the capital. He confirms that he must give all
his proceeds to the cooperative daily. “If I deposit 1,050 Cuban pesos
every day, I am guaranteed a monthly salary of 800 CUP.” If he exceeds
that amount he gets a bonus, and if he falls short there is a deduction.
This Monday, several of the Rutero drivers were not able to meet the
standard, according to Reinier. “I did it, but I have tremendous pain in
my back from the nine hours I was driving,” he explains to 14ymedio.
The new service covers the route of the P-14 bus from six in the morning
until eight at night. The first section starts on 272nd Street in La
Lisa municipality and runs to the beginning of Marianao; the second
concludes at Avenida 26 in the Plaza district, and the last one ends at
Another driver, who preferred not to give his name, explained that it is
not very clear what happens when someone rides the last 100 meters of
the first leg and gets off in the first block of the second. “You could
be charged 10 CUP because you crossed the border, but that is up to the
driver’s consideration,” he speculates.
The Rutero drivers have a significant limitation: they can only accept
Cuban pesos, the national currency, in a country where the convertible
peso has become the strong currency that actually runs the economy. The
drivers justify the decision because “the cooperative keeps the accounts
in CUP to measure the completion of the daily minimum.”
“Betancourt, the president of the cooperative, says that we can not
become a Cadeca (currency exchange),” Reinier says, laughing.
According to several drivers interviewed, for now the contract is in
force for three months and many expect that “when they adjust it” they
will lower the daily quota. There is a sense among them of being part of
an experiment open to modifications at any time.
The outsides of the cars are painted with the identification of the
cooperative, and inside the cars there is passenger information about
their rights and established prices. In addition, the telephone number
18820 is displayed for complaints and claims.
Customers agree that there should be no illusions. “It would be a
miracle if it lasts for a year,” says a young woman to an official
journalist who, at the stop at Fraternity Park, put a microphone through
the window to survey the passengers.
A woman seated next to her limits herself to approval of the new prices.
“Comparing it with the private taxis it is better, but it is still
expensive. A few years ago, when the taxis had a meter, you could travel
through Havana for 5 pesos and for 15 pesos you could travel to another
province,” she concludes.
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