14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 2 April 2021 — Among old and polluting almendrones*, the new Ecotaxis that carry passengers gleam on the outer edges of the National Bus Terminal in Havana. The vehicles are part of a project, funded with international capital, that seeks to preserve the environment, although they still need fossil fuel to function.
Yellow and with “100% ecological” and “zero emission” stickers, the 23 tricycles that circulate in the Cuban capital have received wide coverage in the official press. However, five months after the service started, the solar panels used to charge the batteries still do not function, and the Ecotaxis depend on the electricity grid for supply.
According to Cubadebate, the project was possible in part thanks to the Small Grants program of the Global Environment Fund, which included the installation of a photovoltaic park with 10-kilowatt power to charge the tricycles.
The photovoltaic modules “are already installed,” Ernesto Reyes, director of Taxis Cuba agency number 9, to which the vehicles belong, explains to 14ymedio by telephone. However, they still do not work.
At the moment, the units “are being charged approximately seven hours, from ten at night to five in the morning” connected to conventional outlets
“Only one converter is missing” for them to start working. Meanwhile, the option is to connect them to the national electricity system, which is 95% supplied with fossil fuels.
At the moment, the equipment “is being charged for approximately seven hours, from ten at night to five in the morning,” connected to conventional outlets that consume the electricity that reaches the state entity, stated Reyes. The operation is conducted “after peak hours,” he adds.
Activating the panels “is more complicated”, acknowledges another employee of the entity, who prefers to remain anonymous.
An engineer who also does not want to reveal his name, explains another problem to 14ymedio. The battery capacity of this equipment is 14.4-kilowatt hours (kWh) and the motor consumption is 3 kW. Each vehicle’s engine can work at maximum power for more than four hours for and travel 120 kilometers.
“The most powerful solar panels that are usually installed locally are 450 watts (W)”, details the specialist. “Ten panels represent 4.5 kW, and 14.4 kW is needed in order to charge a battery. 30 solar panels are needed to charge once a single motorcycle. To recharge the 23 motorcycles, 331.2 kW will be needed per day”. This, in any case, says the engineer, “will probably be more economical than using fuel”.
“It could be said that it is ecological, but not one hundred percent”, he says.
The other issue highlighted by the professional is that “to generate that amount of energy they need a solar generation system of approximately 55 kW per hour”, which translates into “450 W of 120 solar panels”, a figure well above of the 10 kW that the company’s photovoltaic park could guarantee, once it is in operation.
Currently, a total of 23 teams operate under the Ecotaxi system, of which 11 cover the route that goes from the National Bus terminal, through Infanta, Zanja, Curita Park, Fraternity Park and Cienfuegos Street, to the train terminal. The rest goes from the railway terminal to the Hermanos Ameijeiras hospital.
“Many of us worked as Cocotaxis drivers, and now we are providing our services here. The rest switched by virtue of having licenses to drive both a car and a motorcycle”
The project is funded primarily by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to “promote the empowerment of women through income earning, and to achieve gender equality.” Which is the reason why all the drivers are women.
Yanitza de Caridad Reyes Ramírez, one of them, states that during her time as a driver she has done “very well” and that “it is an excellent job opportunity”.
She found out about the job “through the call made by the Federation of Cuban Women right here at the base,” agency number 9 of Taxis Cuba (on Desagüe Street). “Many of us worked as Cocotaxis drivers and now we are serving here. The rest switched by virtue of having licenses to drive cars and motorcycles,” she says.
Reyes does not want to specify how much she earns per month after taxes and how much the company keeps, but she assures that she “does well”, because the course “is relatively short, and the price is more accessible to the public than any taxi”. She also pointed out that in reality “most of the time customers leave the five pesos”, one peso more than the ticket costs.
Ramona Vázquez, a former cycling and skating athlete, explains that in order to participate in the project, you must have at least three to five years of experience and a car license. “Someone who has recently obtained a driver’s license cannot take part in the project, people are transported here, and the lives of the passengers imply responsibility,” she says. “We do not have a fixed salary. The owner has to provide 125 pesos a day, the one who is hired, 300. I am not the owner, I am an assistant, but I am already working to become the owner”.
“We do not have a fixed salary. The owner has to provide 125 pesos a day, the one who is hired, 300. I am not the owner, I am an assistant, but I am already working to become the owner”
In an approximate calculation, if there are 6 seats, in one trip the driver could earn at least 24 pesos that would add up to 432 after completing the 18 trips of the day. If they have to deliver 125 to the company, the daily profit would be 307 pesos before subtracting 10% for the National Tax Administration Office (ONAT).
This is for the owner-drivers. The hired or assistants, on the other hand, have to give 300 pesos to the company and they keep 132.
Sometimes the team breaks down and they have to stop working and, of course, income goes down. “It is the same system as the Gazelle, we can have an assistant, we take turns, three days for her and three days for me, the issue is that she has to be a woman and have car and motorcycle licenses”.
Another of the women who preferred not to tell us her name, does it in a different way, declares that this job does not “give her business”, but that it is convenient for her to have a link with the State and that is why she was contracted.
In addition to the payment to the ONAT, she also pays the cost of repairs done on the motorcycle. “I don’t make enough,” she asserts. “It is not profitable for me to have an assistant. Today, I don’t feel well, yet here I am at the helm. With what I earn, I hardly have enough for my daily expenses, and cannot afford to dream of putting something in the bank. If you do not have access to another income, you are in trouble”.
*Translator’s note: The classic American cars still common in Cuba are nicknamed “almendrones” in reference to their “almond” shape; many of these are used as taxis.
Translated by Norma Whiting
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