QCOSTARICA – Nosara is a town developed between alleys with restaurants, high-end shops and hotels that despite all the amenities they offer are located far from the paradisiacal beaches of the Nicoya canton, in Guanacaste.
However, distances are shortened in the middle of gravel roads, potholes and single-lane streets with a picturesque trip in the toritos or tuk-tuk, which function as alternative transport in the area.
Currently, about 80 to 100 tuk-tuks circulate on the roads of Nosara, belonging to companies or individual owners that transport locals and tourists. Teresita Mora was one of the first to offer this service. She fell in love with the region more than 30 years ago, but since she arrived, her main limitation was mobility, because although the town offered all the comforts to live, the distances between shops were long and pay for a taxi or some traditional means of transport. it was very expensive.
This is how the first tuk-tuk appeared, as an initiative to move at a low cost and that opened a series of productive chains for people in the area.
Mora is the co-owner of “Mosca tuk-tuk”, an undertaking that has had eight of these motorized tricycles for more than 20 years. Currently, she has several people working for the company. She, along with her husband Ronald Mora, or “Mosca”, as he is known in the area, assure that they try to maintain the business in a formal way and complying – as far as possible – with Costa Rica’s transport regulations.
As with other forms of informal transportation in Costa Rica, the service operates outside the law. Mora explains that for several years they have turned to the authorities to find a way to obtain a permit to work within the regulatory framework and in turn have coverage for possible traffic incidents.
Although they are not the only ones in the area with this type of transport, Mosca tuk-tuk was the second undertaking to offer the service and is connected to most hotels and restaurants in the area.
Some other companies have their own tuk-tuk and provide the service according to their personal schedules while others have their own fleet and generate jobs, additional income and facilities for people. Among them, they have designed a system of rates, payment to workers, communication and even a website to provide the service.
Source of employment
Johel Siles is one of the people who made this activity her source of income, as she assures that she started working for a tuk-tuk owner and a few years ago she managed to buy her own “torito”, as they are also known as.
The name toritos tuk-tuk is the result of nicknames given by nationals and foreigners, but generally they are only known as tuk-tuk.
These motorized vehicles came to solve a transportation problem, not only for tourists but also for locals, that is, shortening distances and simplifying transportation not only for tourism, but also allowing locals to move to and from work in a more economical way.
In Nosara, there are many commercial establishments, but the houses are not so close, therefore, prior to the tuk-tuks, it involved for many more than an hour walking.
“Once a man called me who had left work at the Lagarta Lodge at 11 pm. At that time we gave him the service because if we hadn’t he would have had to go home on foot because there are no other options,” said Mora
For this reason, the toritos companies have a payment system in which locals pay ¢3,000 for transportation while tourists (regardless of whether they are nationals or foreigners), pay from ¢4,000 onwards.
The operators do not have a formally established rate system, but the prices are according to the distance and what is agreed to among themselves. So, at Guiones beach they can charge ¢3,000; to Pelada beach, something similar, but to Ostional, Sámara or Junquillal beach the prices go up and can be around ¢8,000, depending on the distance.
The tuk-tuk owners organized a WhatsApp group where the tourists’ demand is shared so that if someone calls one of the numbers, but the carrier is not available, completing another trip, they inform the group so that another that is available can provide the service.
During the past year, as a result of the restrictions to travel due to the pandemic, the demand for the service was affected due to the drop in tourism and some owners even lost their vehicles, but as the visitation has recovered, the operators assure that this means of transport is convenient due to its lower cost.
Although tourism is not recovering 100%, Siles explained that at least there is more movement and that helps them keep the business afloat, but the demand continues to be driven mainly by locals.
This service operates as a means of informal public transport, that is, the service is provided to people, nationals or foreigners due to the lack of regulations and lack of a positive response by the Consejo de Transporte Público (CTP) – Public Transport Council – division of the Ministry of Transport.
“What they offer is a taxi license and that is very expensive, in addition to the fact that the tuk-tuk does not meet all the characteristics of a (red) taxi,” added Mora.
Due to this, tuk-tuk owners must operate in a gray area in terms of regulations, as there is no regulation that supports them as an alternative means of transportation. In other words, in the case of a traffic accident, they are not covered by an insurance policy that covers damages and injuries to passengers or the driver.
In 2019, the CTP issued a legal criterion in which it declares the service as a public transport that requires regulation and specifies details about the licenses that must be used.
Manuel Vega, executive president of the CTP, explained that they are aware of the “motorcycle taxis” as he calls them and assures that despite the fact that in 2019 a legal criterion was issued and there is the wiggle room in the law to change the jurisdiction and include tuk-tuks as a means of public transport, a reform of the legislation is required, that is, it implies the drafting a bill and its respective approval in Congress, which is not even planned yet.
“See what happens in Nicaragua. This service was authorized for certain types of trips in some regions, but I, who am in constant communication with the authorities of that country, explain that people do not respect the limits and take more passengers than authorized in distances that are not allowed. That is the risk we run in Costa Rica too,” added Vega.
For the moment, as a solution, Vega proposes that users use traditional public transport such as buses, vans or taxis.