* Thousands of state drivers affected
* Part of ongoing market-oriented reforms
By Marc Frank
HAVANA, Jan 8 Thousands of Cuban state taxi
drivers will soon be leasing their vehicles and working on their
own as part of a reorganization of the country's taxi service
aimed at improving efficiency, according to rules published on
The measure follows the similar transfer of barbers,
beauticians, small cafeterias and other retail services by the
state to what is called the "non-state" sector as part of
market-oriented reforms under way in the Communist-run country.
Cuba nationalized all retail business in 1968, down to the
shoe-shine shops, and fixed all prices. But in an attempt to
stimulate the stagnant economy and reduce bureaucracy, it is
giving some of it back in a form of legal private enterprise
operating on a market basis.
The sector now numbers 445,000 people, or 5 percent of the
labor force, and is made up of private, leased and cooperative
small businesses, their employees, private taxi drivers, the
building trades and others.
The administration of Cubataxi, which operates in the local
U.S. dollar equivalent called the convertible peso (CUC), will
be downsized. Drivers will become self-employed, leasing a
vehicle from the company at a daily rate, according to the
resolutions published in the official Gazette.
"The idea is to eliminate irregularities in the service, the
stealing of fares and reduce inflated administrative payrolls,"
said Debora Canela Pina, a transportation ministry specialist at
Cubadebate, an official on-line news site.
Cubataxi drivers are notorious for not using their meters.
Canela Pina said the reorganization would improve service
and 60 percent of taxis, many old Russian Ladas, would be
replaced by newer models consisting of second-hand rental cars.
Outside the Havana Libre Hotel, two Cubataxi drivers said
they hoped their new status would prove beneficial. Besides,
they noted, they had no choice but to accept their fate or be
"This law should benefit us if there is no fine print and
should be more efficient because the driver will have total
control of his taxi and its maintenance," said one driver,
The new system is based on a pilot project in Havana begun
in 2010 at a single garage.
Thirty of the more than 2,000 state taxi drivers in the
capital began leasing their vehicles rather than working for a
wage, a small percentage of the tips and whatever they could
pocket on the sly.
Instead of three support staff for every driver, as in other
garages, there were just three for the thirty.
"You pay 595 CUC ($595) for the car and then after a month
39 CUC plus 40 (Cuban) pesos a day," Elio, one of the drivers,
said at the time. He requested his last name be withheld.
The government reported that after the first year, the
state's yearly take from each taxi was estimated to multiply
30-fold compared with before the experiment began.
Under the new rules, the daily rate was reduced to 23 CUC
($23) and costs can be deducted before paying income tax.
The drivers will be responsible for maintaining their taxi
and gasoline, but can buy parts and services from the state
company at reduced prices.
(Additional reporting by Nelson Acosta; Editing by Dan Grebler)