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Uber Challenges MOPT, Plans To Operate in Costa Rica

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An illustration picture shows the logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone next to the picture of an official German taxi sign in Frankfurt, September 15, 2014. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

Photo from Uber website.

QCOSTARICA – Is Uber looking for a fight in Costa Rica? It may appear so, given the most recent statement by company’s director of communication of Uber Mexico and Central America, Luis de Uriarte: “We are a private service; it is a contract between private individuals, between a person giving a private driver service and another person who hires him for it”.

According to Uriarte, the company plans to operate in Costa Rica without prior controls by the Public Transport Council  (Consejo de Transporte Público – CTP), a division of the Ministry of Transport (Ministerio de Obras Públicas y Transportes – MOPT), that regulates public transport services such as taxis and buses.

In the world of private enterprise, bad services simply disappear.

Uriarte assures the company will start operating any day now. Earlier this week, Uber announced the hiring of a general manager for operations in Costa Rica, and that it would be looking for several more key people in the area of marketing and operations.

Uber’s intentions are not being well received by the MOPT.

A meeting that had been scheduled for this past Tuesday between the deputy minister of Transport, Sebastian Urbina, and Uber officials was postponed. The postponement was on the part of the MOPT,  claiming scheduling conflicts, saying the meeting will take place in the next couple of weeks, but not defining a date.

In the words of Urbina, “all paid transport of people must go through the CTP. I have this clear from the Attorney General (Procuraduría de la República) on this matter; even the Constitutional Court has handed down several decisions on the subject. For us the matter is very clear.”

Uriarte argues that the company represents the rights of users to decide how and in what way they will move through the city.

“Uber can live peacefully with the other modes of transport in cities, Uber is a mode of transport that compliments the existing,” says Uriarte.

However, that is not the sentiment of taxi drivers, both the formal  and informal (porteadores), who consider Uber unfair competition.

Gilbert Ureña, president of the National Taxi Drivers Forum (Foro Nacional de Taxistas) explains that, for example, the taxis are subjected to a series of controls that increase operating costs, such as the twice-yearly vehicular inspection (Riteve).

In the country there are 11,179 registered taxis (red taxis in general circulation and orange at the airports) and 1,324 permanent special taxi service (Servicio Especial Estable de Taxi – SEETAXI), known as porteadores. Furthermore, there is no estimated figure on the pirate taxis or illegal porteadores.

The SEETAXI permits were recently reduced from 2,562 to the present, causing discontent within the group, resulting in recent conflicts in the streets and more to come, the group promises.

In Costa Rica Uber may be applying the same tactic used in Mexico City, where it began operating and then negotiated with the government and other groups, for the regulation of its service. After run ins with taxi drivers and authories, Uber in the Distrito Federal (Mexico D.F.), agreed to pay to the Transport Department (Secretaría de Movilidad del Distrito Federal) 1.5% on each fare.

According to the company, it has more than 500,000 users and 10,000 partners (drivers and vehicles) in Mexico’s capital city, and the minimum fare of between 40 and 150 pesos (US$2.50 and US$9.30), depending on the type of vehicle requested and the number of passengers.

In Central America, Uber has been operating in Panama since last year, beginning operations in March 2014.

According to a report by La Estrella de Panama, “the Uber team joined efforts to making the streets safer. They focused on preventing users combine alcohol with driving a vehicle”. The report notes that the company has made alliances with brands such as Johnny Walker to reduce drinking and driveing of locals and tourists after a night of “rumba” (partying). “Certainly, it has been profitable this first year for Uber in Panama,” says La Estrella.

 

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