Agreement in Taxi Conflict and No Protests through Holiday

The taxi protest has been called off, which is good news if you plan to join the Thursday morning commute. The protesters had threatened to again block traffic as part of the ongoing conflict between the official taxis and the contract taxis.

The official taxis want the contract taxis outlawed, the contract taxis want their legal status guaranteed. Aside from the similarity of their work, they have another thing in common: They block traffic when they feel the urge to make a political statement. One favorite tactic is called ‘tortugismo,’ or driving really slowly to impede traffic.

Editor’s Note: Do not confuse tortugismo with Tortugero, the national wildlife preserve. Tortugismo means moving very slowly like a tortoise.

There are four kinds of taxis in Costa Rica, as far as I know anyway.

Airport Taxi

Type one are the official airport taxis, the orange ones you see lined up as you come out of the Juan Santamaria terminal. The idea is that you will pay a fixed price depending on where you are going, usually about $20 to $25 to the average downtown San Jose hotel or from said hotel back to the airport.

Originally the airport taxis were supposed to provide service to and from the airports, however if you have been through the airport in the past year you will have noticed that many orange taxis now operate with meters and they have lost their excusive right to work the airport arrival curb.

Offical Taxis Lined Up at San Pedro Mall

The second type of taxi is the red, officially sanctioned taxi with the a little taxi light on top and a painted yellow triangle on the roof and front doors. The cost to get an official license/permit is substantial, well above $5000. Nothing to sneeze at. These taxis have meters which are supposed to be used at all times, and are supposed to be regulated by the government. In theory, the driver must use his meter (called a ‘maria’ here) or the passenger is not required to pay. Many of these drivers do not own their own vehicles, and often prefer not to use the ‘maria’ because they can pocket the fare rather than pay the boss his share.

Private Taxi Offers Door to Door Service

Type three are the ‘porteadores’ or contract taxis. They don’t have meters or the expensive permits, and are legally only able to pick up passengers on call and transport them door to door. Just like the regular taxi drivers are required to use their meters, this isn’t always the case. While a minority of these taxis serve the tourist market many of these taxis are often yellow, and may provide service to areas the red taxis don’t serve.

Type four are the ‘pirata’ taxis. These are basically anybody with a car who will drive somebody somewhere for a price. They are not legal, but of course that doesn’t stop them any more than drug laws stop drug dealers or stop lights stop Tico drivers.

This conflict has been around a long time and my guess is that it will be around for quite a while longer. The ‘official’ taxi drivers have a legitimate beef. They are paying a rather prohibitive amount of money (to the government) for the right to ply their trade. As they see it, it is unfair competition to allow others to (legally) provide essentially the same service without having to pay the steep fees.

The porteadores claim, somewhat dubiously, that they are NOT providing the same service. In many cases, porteadores act just as official taxis, but present passengers with a one page contract that includes pick up and drop off points. On the other hand, there are some who actually have contracts with large firms to transport their workers to and from the job. Porteadores also serve some areas not served by the official taxi drivers, such as more remote or dangerous areas.

In the past, we have seen the slowdowns and blockades by both sides of this conflict, the porteadores and the official taxi drivers. Sometimes it gets ugly and even degenerates into violence, and if you skip ahead to the 50 second point in the video you will see police in riot gear, tear gas and tow trucks.

On at least one occasion the porteadores brought along wives and children to avoid arrest and possible harsh measures by the police. As a result the police were ordered not to use tear gas because of the large numbers of toddlers and infants in the line of fire.

This time the protest was called off because the government promised to hand out taxi permits to a coalition of porteadores in exchange for not blocking traffic when a new resolution is passed to eliminate the law that allows them to operate legally.

The details of the agreement have yet to be fully reported, but according to La Nacion a spokesperson for the porteadores confirmed that there will be no protests from now through the Semana Santa holiday, which ends on April 5th.

San Jose traffic

To be honest there are probably too many taxi drivers in San Jose and elsewhere.

There are also probably too many lottery ticket vendors, Chiclet vendors, shoeshine boys, CD and DVD vendors, beggars, TV antenna vendors, and any other part of the Informal Economy, legal and illegal, you may care to name.

The unfortunate fact of the matter is that there are a lot more people who need to make a living than there are legitimate, tax paying ways to make a living.

Moe: Somebody call me a taxi!
Curly: Okay, you’re a taxi.

I see no good solution. But maybe you do. Comments welcome.

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  1. Today the national legislative assembly withdrew their proposal to repeal the law that authorizes informal taxi drivers. Francisco Jiménez, minister of public works and transport says the delay will give the government time to "open space for dialogue" This removes the measure of the legislative agenda that runs through May 1.

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