By Alberto Font and L. Arias
Hundreds of taxi drivers on Tuesday flooded Second Avenue in downtown San José to demand the government enforce stricter regulations for two types of informal taxi drivers, known as “porteadores” and “piratas.” Piratas are illegally operated cabs, and porteadores are private chauffeurs.
Formal taxistas say the lack of government oversight on city streets is paving the way for more informal taxis, which cut into an already overly competitive business. Taxi drivers want Traffic Police to stop pirate taxis and prevent them from transporting passengers altogether. They also want cops to enforce Law 8950, which states that porteadores can only provide private door-to-door service. Many chauffeurs pick up clients on the street in violation of the law, they say.
“We need the government to guarantee a financial balance and enforce the same laws we’re required to follow, such as keeping our vehicles up to maintenance standards,” taxi driver Javier Cortéz said. “Pirate taxis and chauffeurs are not following the law and they’re flooding the streets because of a lack of enforcement.”
At 11 a.m. on Tuesday morning, the “fuerza roja” as the fleet of official cabs are known in Costa Rica for their red paint jobs, moved the protest to Casa Presidencial in the southeastern San José district of Zapote, hoping to meet with President Laura Chinchilla. Instead, they sat down with Public Works and Transport Minister Pedro Castro. The meeting continued into the late afternoon.
“This government is ineffective, and today’s protest is to pressure the Traffic Police to do their job and prevent illegal taxi drivers from working,” protester Gabriel García said.
Groups of taxis from other regions also joined the demonstration in the provinces of Puntarenas, Alajuela and Guanacaste.
The National Transportation Chamber backed the demonstration, sending some 80 buses to Paseo Colón and downtown San José.
Chamber Director Orlando Ramírez said the decision was made “in support of taxi drivers and to demand the end of irregular activities, as [piratas and porteadores] contribute to traffic congestion when they park at bus and taxi stops, and police do nothing about it.”
Traffic Police turned out to direct traffic in an effort to avoid complete blockage of downtown routes, and traffic returned to its normal level of congestion by mid-afternoon.