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Uber starts accepting drivers in Costa Rica but government threatens fines

August 13, 2015

Uber appears primed to start offering service in Costa Rica soon, following a series of announcements from the company.

Under the name Uber San José the ride-hailing service that has become the bane of taxi drivers around the world has started to accept driver requests in San José.

Also, daily La Nación reported on Aug. 10 that the company had hired Humberto Pacheco Ortiz as its general manager here.

Uber is a smartphone application that allows users to hail private cars and pay for the ride with a preloaded credit card without exchanging cash or cards with the driver. The company is valued at more than $50 billion, The Wall Street Journal reported on July 31.

The company’s website asks driver applicants in Costa Rica to provide their national identification card, driver’s license, authorization for a background check, vehicle circulation permit (marchamo), proof of car insurance, a photo of the vehicle with the license plates visible and the vehicle’s technical revision, Riteve.

Uber appears ready to roll. But the government has told the company to hit the breaks.

Vice Minister of Transport Sebastián Urbina told La Nación that any cars operating with Uber would be considered “pirates” and could face fines of ₡99,000 (roughly $185) and lose their plates. Urbina said that any vehicle offering transportation services must be registered with the Public Transportation Council.

Taxi drivers in Costa Rica have already mounted small demonstrations in solidarity with taxi unions in Colombia and Mexico that are fighting the Uber phenomenon. On July 30, taxis presented a letter to the Colombian Embassy in San José expressing their support for drivers protesting Uber in Cali, Medellín and Bogotá, the capital.

Uber already has operations in Mexico City and in Panama, Colombia and Chile, among other Latin American countries.

Uber’s pending arrival in Costa Rica comes at a time when there could suddenly be a lot of chauffeurs looking for work. In July, disputes between the government and private drivers known as “porteadores” flared when the latter were told that only half their concessions would be renewed. Drivers blocked streets around the country in protest.

The Solís administration offered an olive branch to the 1,500 drivers who would not get their concessions renewed. On Wednesday, Casa Presidencial said it would present a bill in the coming days that would grant these drivers permission to operate as taxis. Any drivers who can’t meet the requirements would be offered job training to become a public bus driver and access to social welfare programs.

Costa Rica already has services like Tico Taxi and Easy Taxi that allow users to call red cabs from their smartphones with GPS coordinates.

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