According to the Cuenca transportation department (EMOV), the number one complaint against taxi drivers is rounding up fares. In 2016 there were 260 complaints filed against the practice while 177 have been filed through mid-May this year.
Although the minimum day-time taxi fare is $1.39, most drivers ask for $1.50. At night, they often insist on $1.70 or $1.75 instead of the set minimum fare of $1.67.
According to Adrián Castro, EMOV assistant director, drivers must accept the minimum fare if the passenger offers it. “That’s the law and it is being enforced,” he says. “If they try to charge more they can be fined 15 percent of the basic salary and have 4.5 points deducted from their driver’s license.”
Drivers say the problem is two-fold. First, the established fares are not in round numbers and second, fares are too low. “Why did they make fares $1.39 and $1.67 in the first place?” asks driver Javier Pesantez. “Why not $1.50 or even $1.40 and $1.70? It means we are always fumbling around for pennies if we follow the rules. It makes no sense.”
Patricio Padilla, president of the local taxi association, says the bigger problem is that fares are too low. “We disagreed with the fares three years when they were established and today they are even more unfair, because of inflation,” he says. “To make a good living, drivers should collect 15% to 20% more.”
The taxi fare structure is about to undergo its two-year review, as required by city ordinance. Last week, Cuenca Mayor Marcelo Cabrera requested the municipal council to form a committee to consider a rate increase.
Padilla also says fares should be in round numbers. “It’s crazy now. Make the fares come out to denominations of 25 cents, or at least 10 cents. Otherwise, it wastes time for both drivers and passengers.”
Taxi user Rob Castello agrees that fares should be rounded up and says drivers deserve an increase. “Taking a cab in Cuenca is a real bargain,” he says. “When I’m back in California I pay at least five times as much per mile, probably more. I always give the cabbie an extra 25 or 50 cents.”
Another expat, Trish Wilson Jones, says that taxi fare represents a much larger portion of income for a typical Cuencano than for most foreign residents. “You have to figure it on the local economy,” she says. “One thing is for certain. Fares are still a lot lower than two or three years ago before the meters, when you had to negotiate the cost for each ride.”