14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, February 26, 2021 — The pandemic has left an odd imprint on Havana. Bus stops, scenes of real chaos in pre-Covid times, now look deserted most of the day. While the situation is very different during peak hours, from 7:00 to 9:00 A.M. and 4:00 to 6:00 P.M., the stops are never as crowded as they were before 2020. An inspector at each stop is now there to make sure the number of passengers boarding the bus does not exceed the allowable limit and, as much as possible, that riders maintain a safe distance from each other to avoid contagion.
“The only thing that’s gotten better in this town in the past pandemic year is public transportation. I work at a bank and every day I go from Cerro to Vedado. Before, I would spend more than an hour waiting for a bus or a taxi. Now I don’t have to wait more than fifteen minutes here,” says 51-year-old Alicia Medina.
Indeed, in less than twenty minutes on Wednesday afternoon, the stop at the busy intersection of 27th and G streets was cleared of passengers. Three metro buses came by during that time. On two occasions, buses with routes that covered long stretches of the city — the P11, P16 and P2 — arrived, along with taxis. A lot of taxis, especially those popularly known as gazelles.
“I’d rather take a taxi. It’s more comfortable and… in my case it only costs three pesos more. The bus I take costs five so I’m happy to pay the extra. Lately I haven’t had to wait more than five minutes and the flow is constant. It looks like New York at rush hour, with all the streets full of yellow taxis like in the movies,” says a young woman who, according to her account leaves home every day because she works at a privately owned Italian restaurant on 23rd Street in Vedado which makes home deliveries.
The young woman has a point. The gazelles, which belong to Metrotaxi, are the stars of Havana’s urban landscape, plying the city’s busiest thoroughfares, especially during peak hours.
“The ones that never stop are the ones with Cubataxi, the yellow and black ones. I don’t know why but they never stop,” she says. The reason they are never available is simple: they now serve only hospitals and cab stations.
“They are the only routes we have now. The rates are for hospital patients and visitors. We charge 1.25 pesos per kilometer,” explains a Cubataxi employee.
Another company with a fleet of yellow cars is Agencia de Taxi, which used to charge in convertible pesos and whose customers are now mainly tourists. Their prices are much higher, which has made them less popular, but they help alleviate demand during peak hours.
“Our fares are the same as they were when we were charging in CUC based on an exchange rate of 25 pesos,” claims an employee, though he mentions that there are changes coming because the company has “decided to fix the taximeters” in every one of its drivers’ cars.
“Once the contract is up at the end of this month, we’ll be able to get the taximeters fixed and refurbished,” he says, though he points out that the company doing the repairs will only be servicing them at the Agencia de Taxis’ cab stands.
“If a customer files a complaint because a taxi driver is charging a higher fare than is allowed or is falsifying prices, he’ll be fined 5,000 pesos if it is a first offense. If he is caught doing it again, he’ll lose his commercial license for good,” he adds. Drivers can also be fined 2,000 pesos if they do not turn on the taximeter.
That won’t last long,” says one taxi driver. “Pretty soon people will figure out tricks to get around the rules. I’ve spent twenty-five years in this business and taximeters have never solved anything. The last time they tried it, it didn’t work. What never changes is supply and demand. And negotiating a price with the customer.”
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