A significant number of Cuenca’s 3,600 taxis are out of service, according to some taxi drivers. The reason, they say, is that the fare scheduled programmed into taxi meters in 2014 has reduced the income for drivers, and some taxistas have taken other employment.
“They get new jobs or they have private agreements with a few customers who will pay them
more,” says José Iglesias who still drives his taxi. “I have four or five friends who are not driving and they say they want to sell their licenses. I can’t tell exactly how many are not working but I think it could be in the hundreds.”
Iglesias says there are other factors that are making customers wait longer for a taxi, including the new Easy Taxi service. “People see more empty taxis pass by but a lot of them are on-call for Easy Taxi, where they can make 50 cents more for a ride,” he says. Easy Taxi is a smart phone-based service that connects taxis and passengers in the same area, using GPS technology.
Gustavo Peréz says that the new fare schedule is making taxi drivers more selective in their routes. “I pick up anyone who waves me down but I know some drivers who refuse to take passengers into El Centro because of the traffic,” he says. “And there are other drivers who used to drive in Centro looking for fares who now drive somewhere else.”
Although the meters charge for time standing in traffic in addition to distance, drivers say it’s not enough to cover the expense and aggravation. “It used to be when we could negotiate fares with customers that we would add in the cost of driving in Centro,” Peréz says. “Now, since the decision is made by the meter, it’s not worth it.”
Expats living in the historic district say waits for a taxi pick-ups have increased substantially. “I would say I wait two or three times as long as I used it,” says Ray Mallory, who lives two blocks from Parque Calderon. “There have been times, especially at night, when I’ve just given up and gone home.” He says he has also been refused rides into the historic district by taxi drivers who say that bad traffic makes the trip unprofitable.
Alfredo Aguilar, who oversees public transit services for the city, says his office is receiving more complaints about passengers about long waits. Although he attributes some of the delay to taxi drivers and passengers adjusting to the taxi meter system, he says he is looking into complaints, including some from people who know taxi drivers who refuse to drive.
“We are monitoring the situation and it is possible we may open bidding for new taxi licenses if the demand is not met,” Aguilar says. He says he is aware that some taxis are working privately, off the meter, and says his office is investigating. “This is not legal and we will fine drivers we find doing it.”
Bolívar Sucuzhañay, president of the local taxi union, says that the income for most drivers has gone down since meters became mandatory. “We asked for higher fares but we didn’t get them,” Sucuzhañay says, adding that he warned city transportation officials that service would suffer as a result. “We can’t control who drives and who doesn’t and we can’t tell drivers where to go,” he says.
Sucuzhañay says that Easy Taxi may be a factor in longer passenger waits. “This may be the case but I don’t think it’s major. It’s good for taxi drivers who want to participate in the system,” he says.