After the failure of the government's experiment to reorganise public transport in the capital, both in the private sector and the cooperative system, there seems to be no solutions to mitigate the fiasco’s effects on the populace.
The authorities thought that authorizing the modality of taxis libres (not limited to pre-determined routes), favoring those private drivers who decided to continue as ruteros (fixed-route drivers), and increasing the fleet of cooperatives attached to CubaTaxi, would alleviate the eternal transport crisis in La Havana, but just the opposite has occurred.
A tour of various areas around the capital and its routes reveals that the main effects that Havanans have seen are the exorbitant prices of the city’s taxis libres, a shortage of ruteros, and disarray among the MetroTaxis on weekends.
Several interviewees agreed that the situation is chaos due to the increase in taxis libres, which has spiked fares: what cost 10 pesos (Cuban currency), months ago now runs over 25, depending on when the ride is taken.
The scant circulation of ruteros is due to the fact that the profit margins for private drivers who accepted this modality, after dealing with government regulations, obligations and prohibitions, makes the work barely worth it. Although they pay two pesos for a liter of gas, for each liter purchased they must pay an additional 36-peso surcharge, and they are forced to acquire a minimum of 400 liters per month.
According to the government's definition, a taxi rutero is a passenger transport service provided in accordance with the authorised traffic system of stops, or predetermined routes in each territory.
Disgruntled passengers complain that at night taxi libre rates are exorbitant, in a country where the average salary is less than 30 dollars per month. A four-day test, conducted between 10:00 PM and midnight, confirmed that the price of a two-kilometer ride could cost between four and seven CUC.
During this time there almost no ruteros operating. The half dozen running between the municipalities of Playa and Centro Habana charged double and even triple for the same route, in a city where 27% of passengers use private taxis as a means of transport.
"It's not a crisis, it's the way the Government wants it"
"I gave up. I decided to sell my car and get into another business. I’m in the process of opening a restaurant," said Juan Miguel Sánchez, who had been involved in private transportation for the past 15 years.
"It's impossible to be successful in Cuba if you are honest, and obey the law... there is no chance to make money without engaging in corruption and bribery," he complained, referring to another of the benefits promised to private drivers: the purchase of spare parts and accessories with discounts of up to 20%.
"In addition to the fact that the supply of spare parts and accessories was deficient, at these stores the prices were all raised beforehand. That is, in the end we were paying almost the original price," he explained.
The former mechanical engineer tried his hand in every mode, and none of them, he said, were profitable, if you obeyed the law.
The failure of the urban taxi experiment and the national transportation crisis are related to more than just the incapacity of those who oversee the institutions. The dismissals of the heads of Finance and Pricing, and Transport, Lina Pedraza Rodríguez and Adel Yzquierdo Rodríguez, respectively, have not improved the situation.
The regulations issued for private transportation continue in force, without any revisions or adaptations.
"It's not a crisis, but rather the desire of a Government that does not want, under any circumstances, for the private sector to flourish," said Sánchez.
The government's purchase of a fleet of more than 500 microbuses to cover different routes has not relieved the situation either. On weekends, and times authorized by CubaTaxi, these microbuses operate in taxi libre mode, with prices based on supply and demand, well above the five pesos per section that the General Transportation Bureau had established as single rate for the cooperative system.