Text and photos by Bartley D’Alfonso
Cuenca’s four thousand taxis seem so plentiful it’s easy to take them for granted.
Yet, most passengers probably don’t know that their cab driver earns a fare only after first investing $60,000 to $80,000 for the right to serve the public. That is the average amount taxi drivers first need to pay for their permits, license, insurance, and to buy a vehicle.
Taxi drivers’ first step is to pay $40,000 to the Azuay Province government for their taxi permit. Then, they pay $130 for their professional category “C” drivers’ license from the Agencia Nacional de Tránsito, which is valid for five years.
But there’s another requirement: a mandatory six month training course, costing $1,500, from the Syndicate of Professional Drivers of Azuay, where future taxi drivers learn some basic English, the motor vehicle code, and study the street system of Cuenca and surrounding areas.
Taxis are purchased by the driver, not by a taxi company, at a cost of between $20,000 up to $25,000, depending on the vehicle make, model and year. On average, it costs an extra $600 for the “official” yellow paint job while the orange commercial license plate costs $28.
As in other countries, there is no escaping the tax collector. Depending on their annual income (or what gets reported), taxi drivers pay Ecuador’s tax authority, the SRI, up to two hundred dollars every six months for the Impuesto al Rodaje (literally, “a shooting tax”).
Being self-employed presents another problem for taxistas: because they do not pay into the government Social Security health care system, they must chose between “voluntary” membership, which is usually prohibitively expensive, or buying private health insurance for them and their family. They are also required to carry vehicular insurance which costs up to $500 monthly, depending on the terms of their policy. Most drivers spend ten dollars daily for gasoline.
All of these expenses are especially cumbersome for the city’s handful of female taxistas, of which there are only 10. Most women drivers are divorced or separated and are the sole breadwinner of their household, supporting their children and sometimes an extended family. Most of them work six days a week and up to twelve-hours a day to make ends meet.
During a recent interview, Patricia Paderes, said that all of her colleagues are single-income family supporters.
The women drivers must also overcome discrimination from their mail counterparts. “At first, some of the men (drivers) resented our presence, thinking we were depriving another man of feeding his family,” Paderes says. “Others felt that our proper roles were to stay home with the children and clean house and cook.”
Now, she adds, women have been accepted in their male-dominated ranks. “The men are very protective for our safety. They quickly respond during any emergency calls on our radios or cell phones.” When I asked Patricia if, overall, it was safe for women to drive taxis in Cuenca, she immediately smiled and said, “Yes, especially with the gringos, who always are so polite, respectful and friendly.”
With all of the expenses and other requirements, why does anyone, male or female, drive a taxi cab at all? Patricia said that there are still many benefits: being independent and being her own boss, allowing her to choose her work schedule and thus accommodate her family’s needs.
Reposted from Cuenca Expat magazine