Why Taxi Drivers in Lima Are Seeing Red Over the City’s New Black-and-Yellow Rules

Published by Global Voices July 10.

Life for Lima’s licensed cabbies ain’t what it used to be.

Illegal taxis swelling the capital’s congested roads have for years denied them customers and depressed fares.

Now new rules to rid its unruly industry of the estimated 120,000 “pirate” cabs — which aren’t safety-inspected and occasionally rob passengers — are rankling the drivers it aims to help.

Stick black-and-yellow strips on your side-panels and a lit ‘TAXI’ sign on your roof, or face a 190-sol ($68) fine, the local authority told Lima’s 90,000 registered fleet this month.

It’s so passengers can distinguish the good guys from rogue operators, it says.

Drivers must also paint their cars yellow, white, or black by 2017, respective of whether they are self-employed, authorised to wait in a taxi rank, or only take pre-booked journeys.

A taxi with the black-yellow stripes along the car and sign, as per the new ruling. (photo: Alex Pashley)
A taxi with the black-yellow stripes along the car and sign, as per the new ruling. (photo: Alex Pashley)

Taxistas circulating around the suburb of Miraflores yesterday said the move wouldn’t cut crime and was a ruse to raise revenue for the local authority.

“We suffer every three months, there are constant changes.” said Jesus Alberto Alarcon Huauya, a self-employed licensed driver whose already-yellow cab exempts him from the changes.

“It’s not going to stop the criminals as anyone can buy the strips. It’s a shame that in Peru this is a business for the mayor’s office. It’s all a mafia.”

Marco Antonio Rodriguez Atarra, a self-employed licensed driver for eight years who earns 100 soles a day on average said: “where I am going to get this money from? It’s about 85 soles for the strips and it could be 1,500 soles to paint a car.”

“I give it three months maximum and then the authorities won’t bother us. I’m not going to comply and spoil my car with these stripes,” he continued, adding most of his colleagues wouldn’t obey the rules.

A repeat offence is 380 soles.

A taxi driver's accumulated yearly permits displayed on his windscreen (photo: Alex Pashley)
A taxi driver’s accumulated yearly permits displayed on his windscreen (photo: Alex Pashley)

Congested capital

Peru’s capital has more than double the number of taxis it needs, reported El Comercio newspaper in 2011. Congestion cost the economy $1 billion in 2010 in lost productivity, said El Gestion newpaper.

To formalise the trade, the local authority has tried to impose taximeters with regulated fares and electronically-chipped license plates in recent years, but enforcement has been partial.  Licensed drivers’ cars can’t be older than 14 years.

“Taxis only satisfy 10 percent of the demand, but take up 70 percent of the roads” said Susana Villaran, Lima’s mayor, who passed the proposal last August.

Drivers said the changes were a move to win votes for the incumbent Villaran, who seeks re-election in November’s local elections, and expected them to be dropped if the 64-year old centre-left mayor loses.

Lima’s absence of a public transport network, further strained by the population’s near trebling since the 1980s to over 9 million, has given free rein to the private sector.

A legion of small privately owned minibuses, known locally as combis and about 45,000 taxis shared by commuters with mutual destinations, colectivos, have for years clogged up Lima’s arterial roads.

A combi bus conductor in Lima's centre. Officials want to reduce their number, saying they cause greater accidents and are poorly maintained (photo: Alex Pashley)
A combi bus conductor in Lima’s centre. Officials want to reduce their number, saying they cause greater accidents and are poorly maintained (photo: Alex Pashley)

Though things are changing.

The local authority inaugurated its metro line in 2011, and the first stage of its underground second line will be ready in 2016, with a further three lines in planning.

Larger American-style school buses, coasters, are being favoured over combis, which critics say drive recklessly racing for the same customers waiting at stops, and the taxi service is being updated.

But the new metro line, which has cut commutes from 2 hours to 30 mins along the 34 kilometre north-south track, has long queues and taxis still are important for journeys.

The Metropolitan Line One. A public bus service which has a reserved lane along a highway (Wikimedia Commons)
The Metropolitan Line One. A public bus service which has a reserved lane along a highway. It travels south to north via its historic centre (Wikimedia Commons)

Public insecurity

Dantes Paredes, a social worker, said having all cars vouched for with their respective colours or stripes would make him feel safer. “It’s about stamping down order for progress,” he says.

Public security ranks is a key voter concern that will mark the local elections. Nine in ten citizens felt unsafe in the streets, according to an Ipsos poll in January.

Jaime Sorilla, a 65-year old retired businessman had little sympathy for the taxi drivers, though said the ever-changing policies of mayors who govern in four-year terms were disruptive.

“Drivers are going to have to finance it. If they don’t sort out this integral plan, if they don’t give us guarantees this taxi is registered, we’ll remain in danger.”

“An old mayor vowed to have all the taxis painted, then it was forgotten as the new mayor wasn’t bothered. They are cretins and donkeys. The continuation of good things mustn’t always be coloured by who’s governing,” Mr Sorilla added.

This taxi is now illegal. But cabbies question if the changes will be enforced (photo: Alex Pashley)
This taxi could be fined 190 soles ($68). But cabbies question if the changes will be enforced (photo: Alex Pashley)

The new informal

The cumbersome process to become a registered driver is blamed in part for the rise of informality.

“The system’s too chaotic,” said Vladimir Garcia, a student who regularly relies on taxis for commuting.

“At the moment in order to get a license to be a taxi driver, they must queue for hours or days which is problematic.”

High paperwork and low enforcement are why one ‘pirate’ driver, who wished to remain anonymous, says it pays to be unlicensed. Registration has been closed since November 2012.

An unlicensed cab without stripes, or a painted number plate on the side. In spite of safety concerns, passenger regularly travel in them (photo: Alex Pashley)
A driver in an unlicensed cab. Cabbies circulate unmarked, often with a plastic taxi sign on the dashboard to be taken off if police are seen (photo: Alex Pashley)

“I work quietly, on the down low, with a number of repeat clients,” the man who drove a well-maintained saloon and earns between 100-200 soles a day said.

“I’ve been fined once in five years. I paid 500 soles in Callao. They police are always there but they don’t see me – it’s not bad.”

Certain exemptions

The assistant manager of the Taxi Service of the Management of Urban Transport at the local authority, Violeta Valiente said the mayor’s office has “agreements with 19 district councils in Lima to inspect offending taxis all over the city.”

Transport inspectors fined Monday 53 drivers without the stripes on the ruling’s first day in force.

But drivers registered in Lima’s neighbouring city-port of Callao, who often cross the city limits, will not need stripes or to paint their cars, confirmed Miguel Gonzalez, Urban Transport manager in the Municipality of Callao.

Ms Valiente said it would be “ideal to have a unique authority” overseeing both cities.

Lima-registered cabbie, Jimmy Mulgar who works as a so-called ‘remisse’ driver and can only ferry pre-booked customers, said the fact Callao drivers were exempt was a “nonsense”.

“There’s great discrepancy between Lima and Callao transport and it hits only us.”

A Catholic banner and crucifix hang from the mirror of an independent cab in Miraflores (photo: Alex Pashley)
A Catholic banner and crucifix hang from the mirror of an independent cab in Miraflores (photo: Alex Pashley)

Slower lane

Lima’s modernising transport system looks to redress the imbalance of the private sector with its subway plans and more regularised bus service.

Its success relies on consistent enforcement and continuity between mayor’s terms in power, a combination which draws scepticism from cabbies.

For the eventual displaced however, a less steady future looms.

“If things continue like this, I may have to look for other work,” says Cesar Elias.

“It’s difficult. Businesses won’t give a monkeys about hiring me because I’m 49-years old.

“Some day, I would like to see how taxis are in London. You English are 200 years ahead of us,” he rues.

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