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Uber supporters say court case could legalize ride-hailing service in Costa Rica

February 19, 2016

Costa Rica’s highest court agreed to hear a constitutional complaint this week that advocates of the ride-hailing service Uber believe could legalize it and similar services in Costa Rica.

The Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court, known as the Sala IV, issued a statement Friday saying that it would review a 2015 complaint filed by Libertarian Party lawmakers Otto Guevara and Natalia Díaz, and libertarian economist Juan Ricardo Fernández. While Sala IV debates the case, punishment for providing private transportation deemed illegal under Costa Rican law has been suspended.

The complaint alleges that the National Assembly made a parliamentary error when it passed a reform creating the Special Taxi Service, or SEE Taxi, a private car service separate from licensed taxi drivers. These private chauffeurs are commonly known as porteadores.

Guevara and the other complainants claim SEE Taxi constitutes a public monopoly on private ride services (the government grants SEE Taxi permits). They also allege that the SEE Taxi reform violates the Central American Free Trade Agreement, according to the complaint.

While Sala IV justices deliberate the complaint, the Transit Police and the Public Services Regulatory Authority cannot collect fines, impound vehicles or strip cars of their plates for providing unlicensed transportation services.

The Public Works and Transit Ministry has previously said that Uber drivers could be fined more than ₡100,000 — roughly $200 — and have their vehicle impounded for providing what the government considers an illegal transportation service.

Guevara told the daily La Nación that the court could take more than a year to decided the case, theoretically giving Uber and other unlicensed transportation operators at least that long to do business without fear of seizure or fines.

Taxi union leader Rubén Vargas told Channel 7 TV News that he doubted the case would give Uber the green light to start operating in Costa Rica. If the court does rule in a way that legalizes Uber’s operations, Vargas said taxis would strike.

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