The Government Puts the Screws to Pedicab Operators Too
Another ordinance to regulate transport in the capital has come to light, this one persecuting pedicabs and consisting of a prohibition against operating outside the municipality where the vehicle is registered.
"Imagine. I can't leave the limits of Central Havana" says Yuniel, age 25, who pedals a bikecab he made himself. "I can go to Belascoain, or Carlos III, but not one block more. If the police catch me entering Old Havana or the Revolution Plaza, I risk getting a ticket, or even having my vehicle seized."
These vehicles constitute a boon amidst the perennial transport crisis, due to the insufficient supply of cars, limited fuel, and shortage of spare parts.
Another bike taxi driver who complained of the mistreatment of his "guild" by the authorities is Armando. "They've thrown up a bunch of obstacles against this trade, exercised by the self-employed," he says. "All they want is to get rid of us. Now to get a license they ask you for an endless list of papers and procedures, and even a medical checkup, which includes an eye exam, a blood test, and an X-ray. We have to pay for a driving course as if we were driving a car, and sometimes we have to pay to get things approved it, because they have got us cornered."
Luisón, who lives in Playa, went every day to Zanja, Prado, Malecón or Infanta, locations with lots of customers. "But now I can’t go beyond the Almendares Bridge. Even worse, almost all the pedicab operators are working without a license. The Tax Office is not issuing any new licenses, or renewing existing ones. And they won't explain why either."
In addition to these requirements, the State requires cycle rickshaws to bear a plate with their registration numbers, which they have to get at a workshop located in Bauta, outside Havana. "They picked a very remote place, apparently to discourage us," says Luisón. "And you have to go there pedaling, to demonstrate it’s in good technical condition. It's abusive. We must equip the vehicle with our own resources, upholster it, take it to the shop, and pay for the driving course, all before ever making a penny."
The continuous onslaught by state inspectors and police against this green means of transport, which requires no fuel, and does not pollute the air, sparked a demonstration by 50 pedicab operators in May of 2016. They parked in front of the Revolution Square to protest their poor working conditions and harassment by the State, but their situation did not improve. In fact, it worsened, with this new measure barring them from operating outside their municipalities.
Manolo, who was a P.E. teacher, and now earns more pedaling a cycle rickshaw, says they solve many problems for people. "Any time they knock on our door, we’re ready. Even in the wee hours. Whether it's to take a patient to a hospital, or transport a TV, or a mattress. We are cheaper than renting a truck. And we go anywhere, even if there’s a flood, or rough terrain."
"The tough lives led by Cubans force us to scrap," says Pepecito, a school-age youth who put together a bike rickshaw and tries to earn money pedaling. "A lot of people also come from the countryside to use the pedicabs, and the disputes over the fares are tremendous."
"Now, with the new law keeping us from leaving the town, it’s worse. Yesterday I took a couple bound for the Bus Station, and had to leave them on the border of Central Havana and Revolution Square. They didn't want to pay me. I had to explain to them that it wasn't my fault, that the Government has prohibited it. They had to walk the last six blocks. Luckily, their suitcases had wheels. Otherwise they'd have had to pay for another rickshaw to get to the station," he explained.
The number of pedicab operators in the city is not known, but there are clearly many. Almost all of them are working without licenses, and unable to obtain them, harassed by inspectors and the police, and burdened by the many absurd laws designed to hinder their operations, such as this new "ban on operating outside one's municipality."