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New bill would OK ride-sharing services beyond Uber in Costa Rica

March 2, 2016

Lawmaker Franklin Corella will present a bill by the end of the month that would regulate ride-sharing services — both for profit and not — that he said will help address Costa Rica’s notoriously congested roads.

The ruling Citizen Action Party (PAC) lawmaker told The Tico Times that his “collaborative mobility” bill would create a regulatory framework that would go beyond Uber to include carpooling and other transportation services from local entrepreneurs. But continuing to expanding private transportation options is likely going to spark more pushback from the country’s taxi unions, Corella said.

More than 70 percent of the cars on Costa Rica’s roads have only one person on board, Corella said. Finding ways to let people share rides through carpooling, ride-hailing and other private transportation services could reduce traffic, improve air quality and parking availability, especially in congested areas like San José and Heredia. Corella said the bill would focus on creating safe environments for passengers to use these services, regardless if money is exchanged.

The bill also seeks to ensure greater security for riders. Uber requires a background check for its drivers but because the service is technically illegal in Costa Rica, there is no oversight by the government. Part of that oversight might also include incorporating fees or taxes on for-profit private transportation currently regulated here.

The bill would incentivize participation in nonprofit carpool services with preferential parking spots or a reduced annual vehicle circulation fee, known as the “marchamo.”

Corella pushed back against the characterization that his bill would legalize Uber in Costa Rica, but it’s hard to read the proposal and not see Uber or other ride-hailing apps as a natural fit. The PAC lawmaker said that he was open to the possibility that Uber could fall within the scope regulations but stressed that his main purpose was to modernize private transportation laws here.

Ride-sharing beyond Uber

Beyond Uber, Corella said he hopes the proposed regulation would create opportunities for local entrepreneurs to participate in the ride-sharing market.

One such project is “Carro Compartido” — Shared Car — a nonprofit ride-sharing service under development by the University of Costa Rica’s National Structural Materials and Models Laboratory and General Services Office. The project’s coordinator, Emerson Castillo, said that the university has been working on ways to reduce pollution and traffic at and around the San Pedro campus as students, staff and faculty vie for limited parking. Demand to park on campus is so great that available parking is raffled off every semester, Castillo said.

Carro Compartido would connect students with cars with others who live nearby to carpool to campus through the use of an application being developed by the UCR. Castillo said that the program would incentivize participation through preferential parking and reduced prices for parking passes. Castillo noted that there is still some legal limbo regarding safety and other regulations for the service but if all goes well, the program could be operational by August, he said.

The program is currently only for UCR students, faculty and staff but Castillo said that there is potential to eventually service the San José Greater Metropolitan Area.

The timing of Corella’s bill comes weeks after the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court suspended the enforcement provisions of a law that could be used to fine or impound the vehicles of Uber drivers and other unlicensed transportation services. Transit police can issue tickets but the government is not allowed to collect those fines until the Constitutional Chamber, also known as the Sala IV, rules.

Taxis have already come out against Uber and this bill would likely create additional players in Costa Rica’s private transportation market. Corella said he thought the taxi unions had “already said what they think” of more competition, looking back on the string of demonstrations agains the government’s refusal to block Uber’s app here.

The lawmaker said that he expected taxis to defend their interests but that he hoped the pugnacious unions would see the legislation as a “supplement” to their service instead of a threat.

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