Sunday, August 26, 2007

Venezuela is Taxi-Land

Combine 12 cent gas and high unemployment and what do you get? Taxi-land. Welcome to Venezuela, where gas is much cheaper than water and you can fill your tank for $1. When anyone needs a job, they just buy the oldest vehicle that still runs and place a 50 cent TAXI sticker on the windshield and ya.

Informal taxis are simply everywhere. Old cars, new cars, old trucks, new trucks...well mostly just old cars and trucks. Just for fun I started counting in Ciudad Bolivar and by my highly unscientific count roughly 1 in 6 cars on the road had a TAXI sticker or a sign saying where they were going. The vast majority of them are empty, but when your marginal costs are so low, that's okay.

Wanting to know more, I started riding in a bunch to learn about the system. Seems like the people were roughly evenly distributed amongst the following scenarios:

•People without jobs who became informal taxi owners to try to make ends meet. These are typically the ones with the oldest cars.

•People with jobs, but who are cab drivers in their time off to supplement income. These are typically the ones with average cars (for Venezuela).

•People who just keep the sticker on there as they go about their daily routine, taking any passengers that might need a ride for a bit of extra cash. These are typically the ones with relatively nice cars.

•Professionals. These are either trucks with benches built into the back or cabs with a sign meaning they are organized with another group of riders. They work at it to make this relatively well-paying employment.

A post of taxis that work together as an informal company. Drivers wait their turn and hang out as the cabs in the front of the line gradually find passengers. This allows them to minimize travel costs and exert monopoly pricing. Were it not for my amateur photography, you would see that three of the cars in this frame have TAXI stickers. Hardly any of the taxis have identifying marks, and none of them have meters. Fortunately, prices are so low that it doesn't matter for a visitor.

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