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Uber up and running in Costa Rica despite red light from Transport Ministry

Uber Costa Rica gleefully flouted the country’s laws governing taxis Friday afternoon when the ride-hailing service went live at 4:00 p.m. While the basic UberX service started accepting riders, the Public Works and Transport Ministry (MOPT) said the company is operating here illegally.

Uber Costa Rica’s General Manager Humberto Pacheco told Channel 7 TV News he was confident that the service was within the bounds of the law. MOPT disagreed.

“Is Uber’s service legal? No.”

That’s the first line of a news release posted on MOPT’s Facebook page Friday afternoon. The post says — in no uncertain terms — that the government considers the ride-hailing service in violation of pubic transportation law in Costa Rica.

In its statement, MOPT acknowledged that the ministry and Uber met Thursday to discuss how the company could operate legally in Costa Rica, but said they hadn’t come to an agreement. Uber then decided to launch operations Friday afternoon anyway, just in time for the weekend rush.

Pacheco told Channel 7 News that he believed the company could operate legally under a decision from the Comptroller General’s Office that says communities can provide their own public services, including transportation. That legalese is reflected in the app’s terms of service message. By using the app, users agree to join the — take a deep breath before you say this out loud — “Club de Colaboración para la Autosatisfacción de Necesidades de Movilidad en Común, S.A.” (Club for the Collaborative Self-Fulfillment of Common Mobility Needs). The name would sound more kumbayah if Uber weren’t valued at $50 billion.

Licensed red taxis wasted no time expressing their opinion of the new competition. Friday afternoon red taxis met in front of Casa Presidencial in Zapote in protest and carried out a traffic slowdown from there to MOPT’s offices in Plaza Víquez south of downtown San José, according to Waze Costa Rica and Ruta Alterna.

MOPT warned on Facebook that drivers could be fined ₡110,000 and lose their license plates if caught driving for Uber. There was no mention of how the ministry would enforce this rule in a city where unlicensed taxis are already an everyday occurrence. The ministry condemned the service for going live and effectively washed its hands of any responsibility, saying that it would not hear complaints about Uber’s service.

Uber’s apparent response to the government? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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