Cuba re­in­forces pub­lic trans­port as it clamps down on pri­vate taxis

Gulf Times - - AMERICAS -

Cuba’s gov­ern­ment has said that it is im­port­ing hun­dreds of mi­crobuses and buses to al­le­vi­ate a grow­ing trans­port short­age in Ha­vana due to its clampdown on pri­vate sec­tor taxis.

Given a de­fi­cient pub­lic trans­port sys­tem, Cubans in the cap­i­tal have for decades re­lied on its more than 6,000 pri­vate taxis, many of them vin­tage US cars, in par­tic­u­lar those of­fer­ing shared ser­vices on fixed routes.

How­ever, the Com­mu­nist gov­ern­ment pub­lished in July a se­ries of new, tighter reg­u­la­tions on the pri­vate sec­tor that in­cluded rules for taxis that would pro­gres­sively go into ef­fect across Cuba, start­ing in Ha­vana from Oc­to­ber.

Those rules oblige drivers, for ex­am­ple, to pur­chase a min­i­mum amount of fuel from state gas sta­tions with huge mark-ups in order to curb the black mar­ket for fuel amid a de­cline in oil sup­plies from ally Venezuela. They also fix prices for the set, shared routes.

Some drivers in Ha­vana have said the new rules are so sti­fling that they pre­vent them from mak­ing a liv­ing, so they would rather give up their li­censes to op­er­ate as taxis.

The Vice-Min­is­ter for Trans­port, Marta Ora­mas, said on a broad­cast round­table dis­cus­sion on Thurs­day evening that around 800 drivers had handed in their li­cences so far.

“The mea­sures are re­ally se­vere and ev­ery day there is more pres­sure in the streets with in­spec­tors and po­lice,” driver Julio Gar­cia told Reuters ear­lier this week. “I’m go­ing to hand in my li­cence.”

The new rules also in­clude a tech­ni­cal re­vi­sion that Ha­vana’s “rolling mu­seum”, in­clud­ing Chevro­lets, Ply­mouths and Fords from the 1950s, are strug­gling to pass, Ora­mas said, and that 2,167 li­cences had been can­celled so far as a re­sult.

Ha­vana res­i­dents have com­plained in re­cent months about a lack of trans­port op­tions.

Some drivers said they hoped that by bring­ing trans­port to a halt they might be able to pres­sure the gov­ern­ment to re­vise the mea­sures.

How­ever, Trans­port Min­is­ter Adel Yzquierdo said “good news for our Ha­vana is that at the end of De­cem­ber and start of Jan­uary 400 new mi­crobuses that the state has ac­quired abroad will be ar­riv­ing”.

The Caribbean is­land would also soon re­ceive 90 new buses, he said.

Cuba’s broader set of rules on the pri­vate sec­tor that went into ef­fect yes­ter­day sparked con­cerns that it is back­track­ing on mar­ket re­forms nec­es­sary to help boost its ail­ing econ­omy.

En­trepreneurs and econ­o­mists cheered on Wed­nes­day when the gov­ern­ment an­nounced it was lift­ing two of the most heav­ily crit­i­cised re­stric­tions that would cap res­tau­rant seat­ing at 50 and al­low just one busi­ness li­cence per per­son.

A woman rides in a vin­tage US car used as pri­vate taxi in Ha­vana.

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