San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Government Ends ‘Pirate’ Taxi Standoff

President Laura Chinchilla’s administration announced that an agreement reached on Wednesday aims to legalize Costa Rica’s informal taxi drivers.

The agreement ends an 8-year standoff between the government and the country’s porteadores, or informal taxi drivers, by making each person who intends to transport people register with the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT).

The rift has caused many headaches over the years, as failed negotiations often led to road blocks or tortuguismo, a method of protest in which demonstrators drive slowly to stall traffic.

Chinchilla said the idea was to create “a satisfactory agreement which would dispel public fears over continued road blockages but also ensures that thousands of people can continue making a living legally.”

Germán Lobo, head of the Porteadores Chamber, said such practices will end only if the agreement goes through as negotiated. The proposal has one more road block: It must be approved by the Legislative Assembly before it can take effect.

President Laura Chinchilla called on both Ottón Solís and Otto Guevara, her two closest rivals in the February elections – and the heads of the Citizen Action Party and the Libertarian Movement Party, respectively – to seek the support of their followers for the bill.

She said despite achieving an agreement with the porteadores, “It’s very probable that not everyone (in the Legislative Assembly) will vote in favor.”

Members of the media were skeptical that the agreement would eliminate taxistas piratas, as the informal drivers are popularly known. They pointed to the situation in communities outside of San José where no official taxi service exists, and questioned how the government could regulate informal taxis drivers in these areas, or any of the other for-pay transportation services that may surface.

The negotiating team called the process “complex” and “a marathon,” adding that each party involved had to make sacrifices. Edwin Barboza, president of the Taxi Federation, said, “I want to emphasize that in this process, there were no winners or losers.”

According to the agreement, porteadores can only be involved in door-to-door transportation.

In other words, they can’t pick up people on the streets. They must also register with the government, which means they must obtain a commercial patent, pay taxes, enroll in the public health system, keep records of contracts with clients and carry the necessary insurance.

Porteadores can use their own personal cars for a period of three years, after which time, they must subscribe to the rules for all automobiles dedicated to serving the public.

The Chinchilla administration predicts that only 5,000 of the estimated 14,000 informal taxi drivers in the country will be able to continue their work under the proposed legislation.

–Chrissie Long

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