December 2017

Consider your choices taking a taxi

By: Mads Hørkilde
Projects Abroad Volunteer

An increasing number of attacks and even kidnappings all over Latin America have led to locals and tourists alike to feel unsafe taking taxis. The amount of illegal taxis roaming the streets of Latin American cities is reportedly among the tens of thousands. Even in quiet and peaceful Cochabamba, you have to be aware of the taxi you are getting in to.

▲ Real Taxi
Photo by: Phoebe Duperron

Who should be incriminated: The legal taxi driver who tries to earn a living in the face of unfair competition? The fake taxi driver who tries to provide additional income for his family? The police forces, which can't contain the appearance of fake taxis, a problem which is a part of the local culture? Or consumers who are unaware of the scale of the problem?

Far be it from me to make of this article a diary, but I had not yet put a foot on Bolivian ground when someone advised me, "Be very careful before taking the taxi." For two months now, I'm here in Bolivia and I keep hearing and reading terrible stories about taxis.

Well, first, it is really interesting to see that practically all the research I did on the subject of taxis in America Latina refers to security problems: kidnappings, rapes, robberies, or simply dangerous driving. Women are the first target of this type of problems.

Unfortunately, security issues ion taxis does not seem to be something that can be readily understood by everyone. For example, in Cochabamba, there is a strange phenomenon; some taxis display on their car a sticker "No mujeres" ("No woman taxi"). These taxis simply don't accept women into their taxis. We can imagine that they don't want to be assimilated to any issues with women. This initiative is incomprehensible because this amounts to saying that the problems come from women and not from unscrupulous taxi drivers.

▲ Maybe a fake taxi
Photo by: Phoebe Duperro

Happily, there are also remarkable actions. In Santa Cruz, a taxi company, Rosas Taxi, equipped its entire car fleet with a system of GPS localization, with a button of panic (which is connected to the center of emergency). This permits to secure the car used by women. It may be noted that this taxi company excludes men totally; they aren't allowed in. They forgot that men could also be affected by insecurity with transportation. It is still complicated to strike a balance between protecting women and demonizing men.

Another initiative offers an alternative to taxi users: Easy Taxi exists since 2012. This cell application is available in 170 cities and 12 countries. Easy Taxi permits secure transaction because the users don't need to pay with money directly in the car. Moreover, with this application, you have the security that the driver is driving a legal taxi. You are provided with the photo and the model of the car. "

These initiatives that permit to secure taxis can't alone contain problem of insecurity. In fact, it seem that taxis are the "Trojan horse" behind which hide some people to committ crimes. We can take the example of the phenomenon of "kidnapping express." Even if there are several versions; in most cases, taxis are used by gangs to obtain money. According to several articles published in the Guardian and the Irish Examiner, we can find some common points in the manner of proceeding. Most of the time, the drama begins in the street by choosing a taxi at random, or to accept the proposition of a taxi driver just beside the exit from the hotel, the airport, or the train station. Once one gets inside the taxi, the driver changes directions and calls someone else. Then either two or three men enter into the taxi with guns; or the driver drives to the gang's house. Kidnappers threat their victims with death and rape if they not give enough money. The treats are carried out depending on "the good will" of the kidnappers. Generally, the kidnappers keep their victims until they hand in the money; it is why it is called "kidnapping express."

Regarding women being raped, the drama isn't the same. As the newspaper Opinión rightly said in its article: "Mujeres temen a los taxis por asaltos y abusos": How many women have to be abused to finally get things moving? By the way, no precise global figure is available to evaluate the scale of the problem. Evidently, the measures put in place by the government and the police are not sufficient and adequate.

We can note a measure of the government who permit to distinguish between fake taxis and real taxis; because we can't omit that most of this kind of problem comes from fake taxi. For example, something that allows to distinguish between a fake taxi and a real taxi is the TIC (Tarjeta de Identification del Conductor). In Bolivia, since 2013, it is obligatory for taxi drivers to have a TIC. The TIC proves that the conductor is qualified to drive a taxi. The conditions to have a TIC are simple: the driver should present a photocopy of his driving licence, two photographs, a photocopy of his passport, a certificate provided by FELCC (Fuerza Especial de Lucha Contra el Crimen) and the Comando Departamental del Transito, etc. This TIC must be shown in the car and renewed every year. The government of Bolivia tried to impose rules to facilitate the distinction between fake and real taxis. Unfortunately, even if the police control becomes more pronounced, even if the conditions for being a taxi become more restrictive, there are still many of fake taxis, which are the most the times the reasons for the insecurity. For example in Lima, according to the newspaper Peru21, there are more than 40,000 informal taxis. These kind of taxis caused many problems.

In the end, it seems essential to hear the point of view of a taxi company , so I interviewed director of Taxi Iberia, Sergio Morales Arze. Iberia is an enterprise created 19 years ago that employs more than 150 taxi drivers in the city of Cochabamba. Sergio explains, "The difference between a taxi company and a person who simply drives a taxi is simple: in a taxi company, we provide our customers with a service and vouch for their safety. Indeed, as the laws requires, all our taxi drivers are at least 21 years old. Moreover, we conduct a criminal background check."

How we can distinguish between fake and real taxi in the street?

"In reality you can't. There are no things that allow to easily distinguish a real from a fake one. From my point of view, the unique security that users can have is dto call a taxi company or to chose a taxi that has the company's logo on its car door. The taxi that doesn't belong to a taxi company has the letters "TAXI" on its windscreen, but it is exactly the same thing for a fake taxi. It is why it is practically impossible to tell a real one from a fake one. There is plenty of competition between taxis. "

That could be a good think to distinguish the car with a special color like in Mexico, no?

"First, it is not possible because cars are the property of the taxi driver and not the property of the company. Therefore, we can't do what we want with these cars. Second, if the decision of painting all the taxis with the same color is taken, that won't stop fake taxi drivers to paint their cars the same color."

Do you think that the fact to employ women is a thing that guarantees more security, from the point of view of the clientele?

Or, from your point of view, is it not a question of sex, but rather a question of good taxi driver selection? "From 150 of our taxi drivers, there are three or four. Partially, it is true that some persons feell safer with women. I think that the women could have a place more important in this profession but we are in a country that is still macho and the profession of taxi driver is a manly profession. Besides, women don't seem to be interested in this type of work."

Do you think that the profession is regulated enough?

"I don't know… I think that the police assert their control but not in the way that they should. It is the same thing for the TIC, the initiative is good but not in the way that it should."

Cristo de la Concordia - The Guardian of Cochabamba
An increasing number of attacks and even kidnappings all over Latin America have led to locals and tourists alike to feel unsafe taking taxis. The amount of illegal taxis roaming the streets of Latin American cities is reportedly among the tens of thousands. Even in quiet and peaceful Cochabamba, you have to be aware of the taxi you are getting in to.[...]
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