Three years after the arrival of Uber in Costa Rica, the number of drivers dedicated to the transport of passengers has grown by at least 80%. The figure went from 12,500 official (red) taxi drivers and porteadoers (Servicio Especial Estable de Taxi, Seetaxi) to 22,500 by adding 10,000 full-time Uber drivers.
Such an abundance of drivers plunges into desperation families of both groups, formal and non-formal.
High indebtedness, 12 to 16 hour days, deterioration of health, tension and uncertainty, are experienced in different degrees and for different reasons by drivers on both sides of the legal and illegal transport.
Add to that a complicated economic scenario, where people try to cut their expenses.
The production of goods and services is still growing, but less and less with a deceleration in most activities, revealed the Banco Central de Costa Rica (Central Bank) in its June report on the behavior of the economy. In May, the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Censos (INEC) – National Institute of Statistics and Census – announced that the unemployment rate rose to 10.3% in the last year: 1.2% more compared to 9.1% in the same period of 2017.
“There is more competition in the (transport) sector; Too many people involved. I do not recommend it to anybody. Uber is too tiring and hard on health because, because it’s cheap, you have to work more to earn something. See, I know of cases of colleagues who, through fatigue, fell asleep and collided,” says “Manuel”, a made up at the request of the interviewee, for security reasons.
Before Uber, “Manuel” was a private security guard but says he can no longer find work. He is 53 years old and lives in Desamparados with his wife and three children dependent on his income.
According to Andrés Echandi, general manager of Uber for Central America, the company has 22,000 drivers in Costa Rica. Of these, 10,000 (45%) are full-time – Uber being their only source of income.
A similar situation is experienced by the formal or legal (red and orange for the airport) taxi drivers.
Fernando Alfaro Rivera, 35, who says he has 14 years working the Juan Santamaria (San Jose) airport, “the work at the airport is enslaving”.
Rivera tells of how he used to share a taxi with two other drivers, given the concession requires that the car be (in service) at the terminal on a 24-hour basis. “Today that is no longer possible, now the shift is 12 hours. I arrive at home at 2 or 3 in the morning, sleep a little, eat breakfast and am out the door again,” said Rivera.
For Uber drivers, there is the added stress of dealing with the Policia de Transito (Traffic Police) and the bullying of the formal taxis. At the San Jose airport, outside at the end of the Radial, at the intersection with the Bernardo Soto, groups of Uber drivers wait for a customer connecting to the app. “The competition is fierce at the airport,” says Javier (also a fictitious name). “You may sit for hours for a call then there is always the possibility of a transito (traffic official) waiting for you as you pull out of the airport.”
Ernesto, who has worked for Uber for the past 11 months, says the traffic police profile late model small cars with windshield/dash mounted cell phone as a potential Uber.
Days after the taxi drivers protest, Pavas was one of the number of sites targeted by the traffic police clamping down on informal drivers. In Pavas, for example, informal drivers at the Pali store were the focus of the transitos. Through the Uber grapevine, Ernesto says that one of his fellow drivers was corralled by several transitos in front of the U.S. Embassy, though he did not know the exact details of the case.