San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Taxi driver chains herself in front of Costa Rica president's house to protest Uber

Wrapped in a Costa Rican flag, taxi driver Virginia Moreira chained herself to a tree outside President Luis Guillermo Solís’ home in the Escalante neighborhood of San José Wednesday as part of an “indefinite” protest against the government’s handling of Uber and current taxi regulations.

Moreira, 54, said that she’s been driving her taxi for 28 years but lost her permission to drive this year because her vehicle is 16 years old, one year past the 15-year age limit on official, red taxis under Costa Rican law. (Uber requires that the cars in its fleet be no older than four years.)

“I’m here to fight for by children’s bread. It’s my job,” Moreira told The Tico Times. “My children are used to me being a taxi driver and I can’t work in anything else.”

Police closed off the street in front of Solís’ home and a group of taxis parked in solidarity near Moreira, some with the phrase “Uber out” drawn on their windows. The demonstration was peaceful.

Besides calling for a reform to the law to allow older taxis to circulate, Moreira said the government was unfair in how it applies the law to unlicensed taxis, known as pirate taxis or piratas, and Uber drivers.

“Today the government does not support us,” Moreira said. “They apply the law to us, who are legal, and they don’t apply the law to those who aren’t.”

Police blocked the road into the Escalante neighborhood of San José for several hours on the morning of Feb. 10 after a taxi driver chained herself to a tree in front of the home of President Luis Guillermo Solís.

Zach Dyer/The Tico Times

According to Casa Presidencial spokeswoman Stephanie González, the president’s office agreed to receive her letter of protest in person at Casa Presidencial but Moreira refused.

Uber went online in Costa Rica in August 2015 without the permission of the government. The Solís administration has maintained that Uber’s service is illegal under Costa Rican law but has yet to announce an enforcement strategy against the application or its drivers here.

Moreira said the smartphone application has hurt business for red taxis. She called on the government to take action against the company and pirate taxis, and to meet with taxi union representatives.

Thus far, such meetings have failed to produce satisfactory results for the taxi lobby. Taxis blocked streets in the Zapote neighborhood of San José and in front of Casa Presidencial on Feb.1 after the government refused to block access to the Uber app in Costa Rica. The protests made national headlines after a group of taxi drivers threw eggs at other red taxis who did not participate in the demonstrations.

Moreira said if her protest did not result in a meeting with transit authorities and changes to the government’s current handling of Uber and other unlicensed transportation, other taxi drivers would chain themselves to buildings around San José.

Besides the Costa Rican flag, Moreira wore a coat and had a hat on hand for the unseasonably cold weather this week. She also has a white plastic chair if she gets tired of standing.

“I’m ready to take whatever time is necessary,” she said.

Katherine Stanley contributed reporting to this article.

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Hachi Ko

I am really having fun with this topic today, because today is our first day of operating our own “Ride-Sharing” service in San José, Costa Rica. So far, we only have one driver and one car. We comply with our own self-imposed rules, just as Uber does. My girlfriend just picked up her First Fare!

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Hachi Ko

Some more points regarding this situation…

Yes, there are some bad and sloppy taxi drivers.

Yes, the Costa Rican government might be “behind the times” regarding its public transportation and taxi regulations.

But who is Uber to take the law into its own hands? Uber has imposed completely arbitrary regulations, which Uber itself “invented”, and has put its cars and drivers on the streets of San José, Costa Rica. Uber, its cars, and its drivers are required to comply with none of the laws and pay none of the fees or taxes which specifically apply to the official “Red” taxis.

Apart from those few bad red taxi drivers, there are a lot of GOOD PEOPLE in Costa Rica who bought a car that complied with government law and regulation, paid the appropriate fees, and modified their cars to meet the regulations that are required of all legitimate official taxis. Many of these people are the primary wage-earners in their households.

Then, Uber’s Billionaire executives and shareholders parachute into Costa Rica and say, “We make our OWN laws.” The vast majority of the red taxi drivers don’t know or care how to debate the intricacies of Costa Rican law regarding public transportation and taxis. They are just trying to make an honest living and feed their kids. However, Uber’s 8-figure-per-year attorneys know exactly how to manipulate Costa Rican law to their advantage. They will happily dance upon the graves of destitute Ticos, while proudly holding their $1 Million Bonus Checks in the air and burning copies of the Costa Rican Constitution.

The saddest part of this story is that on the taxi drivers — actually, only a percentage of those taxi drivers — even care about this issue. It barely even makes the evening news.

This whole situation just begs the question, “Which other occupations and professions that require certifications and licensing can be undercut by organizations which simply say that they are simply facilitating the ‘sharing of services’ between private contractors and customers?”

How far does this particular Rabbit Hole go?

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What does this have to do with UBER. The law making 15 years the maximum age for a red taxi went into effect long (years) ago. She can’t drive because she didn’t take upgrading her car to something newer that 15 years old. Pretty typical Tico (private or government) in my 5 years of observation; nothing happens until the last minute then it is a crisis. Her solution is blame UBER. The actual solution is buy a newer car.

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Hachi Ko

I had an even better idea…

She should just declare herself to be an individual ride-share provider, similar to Uber. Her ride-share services operate under the same basic rules as Uber, but the specific numbers are different. For example, her ride-share service allows cars that are up to 20 years old.

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Hachi Ko

Another idea…

Why don’t the Co-ops that basically organize the entire official taxi service in Costa Rica declare that their service is no longer a taxi service, and refuse to pay all fees and taxes? What is the government going to go? Shut them down? For following their own self-enforced rules, just as Uber has done?

I am actually very surprised that a major taxi-supported location in the USA, such as New York City or Las Vegas, hasn’t thought of this, or implemented this idea yet. What would New York City do, if, all of a sudden, all of the licensed New York City taxis said, “We are no longer taxis. We don’t owe the city of New York any fees or taxes. We will charge whatever we want to charge for our ‘ride-sharing’ services.” What would the government of New York City do, if that happened? What could they do? Shut down all of the taxi services? Well… they just said that they are no longer taxi services. Now what?

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Hachi Ko

Obviously, Uber is not the DIRECT reason why she lost her taxi-driving privileges. Her car is more than 15 years old. She’s using the platform that Uber cost her so much money that she can’t afford a newer car. Most likely, since she can’t drive anyway, the official taxi guys are “employing” her as a spokes person for their cause, probably helping her out a little, financially, in exchange for her “protesting” services.

However, the official taxi drivers still don’t get it. Uber doesn’t care if they protest or not. In fact, Uber is heartily laughing at this girl who has chained herself to a tree. What does Uber care? It doesn’t hurt Uber. The Costa Rican government has made it very clear that it is NOT going to prosecute Uber for any of its activities, even those activities which the government itself has declared to be illegal. Therefore, protests against the government are meaningless.

If the taxi drivers are serious about this, they are going to have to attack Uber, in force, and with total collaboration. Throwing eggs at the taxis of other drivers just makes Uber laugh even harder. I’ve been thinking of a few ways to attack this issue, for quite a while. I proposed a few of those ideas earlier. In my opinion, the official taxis, If they can stand it, could implement a few ideas. A maximum of two weeks, if they can stand it, should do the trick…

1) Completely shut down the taxi system in San José. All official taxi drivers should just take a “Holiday” for 2 weeks. This might hurt the drivers for a short time, but it would definitely pay off, in the long run.

2) TURN OFF the meters (marias), and advertise that, publicly. Advertise that official taxis will no longer pay any fees or taxes, and are “Off the Meter.” Then, charge 80% of what Uber charges for the same trip.

3) An even stronger version of #2… Rip the maria out your taxi, and throw it on the front lawn of Solis. Build a huge pile of meters in his front yard. Paint, “No Reglas por Taxis!” on the side of your taxis, and go to work, undercutting Uber’s fares.

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Seems like all Costa Rican ever get upset about is money…when their jobs are threatened…I have never seen a big march or protest for any other reason in all the years I have lived here. I find that very sad.

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