Thursday, February 02, 2006
Cuba’s ‘Coco-Taxis’ for Everyone
Thursday February 2, 2006
HAVANA – A low-horsepower canopied tricycle known as the “coco-taxi” and conceived as a mode of transporting tourists has become an increasingly popular method for average Cubans to get from place to place in this city of chronically overpacked buses.
In December, 30 of the vehicles stopped catering exclusively to tourists, as they had done since their introduction in the late 1990s, expanding their services to the local population in downtown Havana.
At this point, there are only three taxi-stands where one can board a coco-taxi, and the popular demand has been so great that it has been practically impossible to find one of the vehicles standing idle.
In contrast to the coco-taxis for tourists, which cost 1 convertible peso ($1.08) and are painted yellow, the vehicles in which the local residents may ride are painted black and are clearly labeled “transporte publico” (Public Transport).
The cost to the general public for a ride is 3 Cuban pesos (about 12 U.S. cents) and customers pay a 40-centavo surcharge per kilometer after traveling 2 kilometers (just over 1.2 miles).
For just 5.80 Cuban pesos (about 25 cents), a Havana resident can ride 10 kilometers (6.2 miles).
Although the cost to board one of the slow and crowded “guaguas” – city buses – is just 40 centavos (about 2 cents), getting into an “almendron,” one of the ancient 1950s personal automobiles that ply Havana’s streets transporting people about their business, costs 10 pesos for a trip within the downtown area and 10 more to be taken to the capital’s surrounding areas.
But the relatively low cost for the coco-taxis’ personalized service is not the only reason riders are lining up to use them.
“I’m going home now. I take the coco-taxi because you can travel in the open air. That’s not the case with the guagua,” Francisco – who works as a janitor – told EFE while waiting at one of the taxi-stands.
Josefina, a hairdresser in one of the capital’s suburbs, says that she uses the coco-taxi to get to work since “the (regular) taxis are very expensive” and she has no way to get to that part of Havana via other public transport.
Although one does not see long lines of customers waiting at the taxi-stands – which Gan says is due to the fact that “the people don’t have any patience” – the 30 vehicles operating at this point are not enough to cope with the growing demand. “We’re expecting a fleet of about 70 vehicles to be added.
That will provide more transport,” Gan said, adding that the coco-taxi drivers try to keep their trips short so that they can ferry the maximum number of customers possible.
The small size of the coco-taxis – they can only carry two passengers – does not allow riders to travel with heavy packages or other loads, but that has not limited their im-pact on the local transport scene.
Martín José Betancourt, an administrator with Panatrans, the state-run firm that oversees many aspects of transportation on the Communist island, told the local daily Trabajadores that as of Jan. 25, coco-taxis had carried 15,352 passengers on more than 10,000 trips.
The coco-taxi service for local residents has been put in place amid the government’s ongoing transportation reform, which has included the importation in January of 12 locomotives and the first of 1,000 new buses, all of them purchased from China.
Some 700 of the buses will be added to the island’s long-distance transport service this year at a cost of more than $100 million, according to local media.