It is widely known that Cuba is a country where the government controls almost completely the economy of the nation. However, starting from 2010 there have been a number of reforms that gave people the possibility to start small businesses, allowing more freedom into the world of work possibilities. The private sector developed very quickly, and since then, the number of people involved in private business reaching 13% this year. Nevertheless, the government still has a lot of control, even over the private sector of the economy, because of the restrictions in the laws. The area of tourism, as one of the largest sources of income in Cuba, is especially strictly controlled by the government.
Private sector reforms in Cuban taxis
On July 10th, 2018 the Cuban government published a resolution announcing new regulations for workers of the private sector of the country, which would be applied starting from December 7th of the same year. There have been modifications in most of the 201 different work permits that it was possible to obtain in the country, and which have been reduced to 123, according to the new law. Some licenses have been suspended, some new were created, and it became possible to obtain only one authorization to realize a single specific activity in the private sector. Among all the available licenses, the one that suffered the most changes is probably the taxi driver license.
In accord with the new law, in order to reorganize the public transport infrastructure, an experiment started in Havana on December 7th and will be imposed in other provinces, if within the next four months it proves itself to be efficient in the capital. It consists of dividing the taxis of Havana into three categories:
- “route” taxi
- “free” taxi
- “comfort or classic” taxi
All of the taxi drivers who wanted to join the experiment started to present their documents into the public offices and choose between one of the three options during the 150 days between the announcement of the experiment and its official start on December 7th, and can continue doing it as long as the experiment goes on. Otherwise, they are not allowed to continue to work in the taxi industry as they did before the experiment started, and their licenses are not considered legal anymore.
There are important differences between the three types of taxis:
“Route” taxis in Cuba
Similar to what was formerly known in Cuba as “Taxi Colectivo”: a taxi that follows a determined route and transports four or five passengers at a time for a fixed price. Only that now the routes for these taxis are imposed by the government, and the drivers have to check in every time they reach the starting and the finishing points. The price is also determined by the government: while before the reforms these taxis cost 10 or 20 CUP, now the price is 5 CUP (or 0,25 CUC) per person for routes up to 8 kilometers long.
“Free” taxis in Cuba
“Free” taxis do not have a determined route: they work on demand and take the passengers directly to their destinations. The price is also to be decided by the driver and the client, which makes “free” taxis a much more autonomous kind. However, these taxis are not allowed to take any of the 23 routes that are assigned to the “route” taxis. Lastly, the third kind of taxis, the “classic” ones, is the one that suffered the least changes. These taxis have always existed as the old vintage cars that tourists often rent for city tours. The drivers of these vehicles can continue doing the same work as they did before, aimed primarily at foreign visitors of the capital.
For the participants of the experience, whatever taxi category they are in, the Cuban government offers special privileges. One of them is buying a specific monthly amount of gas for a price lower than the prices at the gas stations. Aside from that, the government promises to establish stores where the drivers would be able to buy spare parts for their cars with a 20% discount. However, many people disbelieve that it is possible for the government to keep its promise, as cars in Cuba are very old – most of them made before the year 1960; so, they get broken easily, and the spare parts are very difficult to get, especially in the necessary quantity.
What do Cubans think about these changes ?
As you can see, the new laws are intended to be a positive change both for the private sector workers, who get privileges for the government, and their clients, who get to pay less, in the case of Colectivo taxis. Nevertheless, the problem is that many taxi drivers are not satisfied with the changes. Most of them are drivers of “route” taxis – these are the most strictly controlled ones, so the drivers disagree with not being able to decide by themselves what route to take and what prices to set up for their work. Also, some of them do not trust the government, and usher their colleagues not to accept the demands of the government, claiming that those who work under its conditions will end up earning the same small salary as any public office worker.
Even though not everybody has joined the protests, it is easy to notice that ever since the project of the experiment was first announced in July, the number of Colectivo taxis on the streets of Havana has significantly decreased. Many drivers chose to change their license for “free” taxi, instead of continuing to be “route” taxis, so the latter are now very hard to catch, leaving Cubans with the choice of getting a more expensive “free” taxi, or waiting in long lines for a cheaper one. Concerning “classic or comfort” taxis, the prices have gone up since the experiment started; thus, both Cubans and tourists ending up affected by the recent changes in the law regarding transportation.