Hidden taxi meter

The taxi belongs to the State but the need is yours. So you sit in front of the steering wheel with one clear objective: to get everything you can from your customers. They blame you for wanting to prosper, but every night you must give sixty convertible pesos to the company you work for. You can only collect that much through cheating, small swindles that let you earn something for yourself. If you go several days without paying up, they order you out and there are many who want to take the seat of your white Lada.

You’ve bought an enormous rearview mirror which completely covers the meter, which you’ve manipulated so it always shows more. You also have the knack of saying, “I don’t have any small coins,” which lets you keep the difference if your fare doesn’t have exact change. The bad days, you risk  more and don’t even turn on the digital display that shows the cost of the trip; you travel for a fixed price that goes totally into your own pocket. Even though they’ve installed a sensor in the back seat to detect if you’re occupied, you ask the people to sit on the edge and this way the income ends up in your hands and not those of Cubataxi.

The costs of repairing the car are charged to you, because no one is more interested that the tires aren’t flat and that the tank always has gasoline. But when they sack you from your job you’ll have to leave everything you’ve invested in this taxi which they will give to someone else, someone who will repeat the same deceptions that you do today. So you try to get the greatest benefit out of your fourteen hours of work and pick up tourists in the street, who don’t know the distance between one place and another in the city. You tell them the situation is very bad and you have three children, meanwhile you take them from the Capitol to Santa María by the longest route. When they get out you ask them for three times the cost of the kilometers traveled and calculate that with this you won’t have to give all your earnings to Him* today. Thanks to these repeated scams, you can take at least a part of your earnings home.

* “He/Him” is the pronoun reserved for the power, the state and the president.


16 thoughts on “Hidden taxi meter

  1. Oh pathetic situation. Yes i am with the taxi drivers.Without cheating they can not survive.I understand we also earn money by doing hard work but just think once. The Taxi Association is charging them what they can’t earn everyday. Also the maintainance has to be from The driver.Ridiculous.

  2. seriously, taxi driving is the most dangerous job in the world. maybee you should just walk and get robbed, or drive drunk and total your car. how much will that cost. a lot more than a cabbies going to ask for

  3. Some of my most memorable moments in Cuba have come from the taxi rides:

    Slumped over…hiding in the back of illegal 50’s GM monsters…to the airport.

    Changing cars, from a state-owned illegal vehicle to a regular taxi…at a gas station near the airport, paying the first driver $10 chavitos…and the legal taxi driver $3 to deliver me…half a mile away!

    Walking along the entrance ramp to the new airport…after being dumped a kilometer away with just my empty suitcase…and $25 chavitos for the exit tax.

    Negotiating the rate outside the Parque Central is always alot of fun, too…with the dreaded three hour Cubana check-in looming.

    There are so many to remember.

  4. Talking about Toilet Paper I have my own story, which, I don’t know if it could be translated as funny or dramatic!!!!.

    Twenty five years ago, when I defected in Canada and just few hours after I get the Hotel where the Canadian authorities send me, I had to use the Toilet.

    When I pulled the first piece of Toilet Paper, I saw, that from my first pulling the portion that came out of the roll was fully on line, the paper was pulled out even and I did not see the tears roll hanging, my first impression was,, “Wao,,,my pulling was perfect!!!”,however, when I did my second pulling -because, obviously I had to use several pieces!!!!-, the same thing happened, then, I said to myself :”Something is happenning!!!”, then, I took a closer look of the roll to realize that the roll had portions divided by one type oh holes or perforations that allowed it to pull the paper to break even!!!!.

    I was in shock!!!!,,,because all my life when I used the normal Cuban Toilet Paper, which, on top of that, was something like sandpaper!!!! the pendant part-on the roll- was completely torn apart in an irregular manner,,,but now in this Canadian Toilet, I was able to see that those small perforations were able to solve the aesthetics issue and was saving some paper toilet!!!!

    My final expression was “I’ve been bitten by the underdevelopment”!!!!,,,,in 1984 where that kind of Toilet paper was something on the everyday lives of ordinary peoples, for me it was something spectacular!!!!

    In that instant, my decision to ratify and recognize that the Cuban Revolution was a lie orchestrated for a group of murderes and thieves led by the Castros, was confirmed one more time, then I said to myself I’m right, I took the right decision, I’m free,,,now, I can use all the Toilet Paper I need!!!!!!


  5. The time I was in Cuba our ride to the airport was arranged thru our friends with a local taxi driver. He had to drop us off just outside the airport because he didnt have the proper license to drop us off inside the airport. By this time we understood the system and were all for not causing complications for anyone working and just trying to get by. Carrying our baggage a few hundred extra meters was hardly a bother after seeing all the things our friends had to deal with on a daily basis.

  6. Although I am for any practice that fleeces the dynasty, since they are merciless in their treatment of the population, I wonder and hope that people will stop these practices once the Castros move on.

    There is nothing that will repel tourists and honest businesses more than corruption and mistreatment of visitors. This type of culture attracts all manner of scoundrels. The type of businesses that no self respecting country should want – i.e. drug dealers, the mob and opportunists. This is what Marxism breeds; the yearning to take what is not deservedly yours, instead of self reliance and good ethiquette when dealing with others.

    I read almost daily about this phenomenon taking place in some East European countries now that they’ve left communism behind. Russia in particular, where internal mafias has established itself it is said that in certain places like far Eastern Siberia, the mob actually has taken over local governments. On the other hand, countries like the Czech Republic and Poland seem to have avoided it this problem. I hope Cuba follows the model of those countries that have managed to avoid the corruption plague.

    Being an island, and like most countries including Great Britain and Japan, both economic power houses, Cuban will depend on foreign trade and commerce to subsist. Failure to establish a good economic atmosphere can spell catastrophe and more economic misery for the population.

  7. Plucked from Sky News …….. who’s says international media in not right on the pulse … !

    Toilet Paper

    The country’s supplies are running low and new deliveries are not expected until the end of the year, a state-run company said.

    The prices of 24 essential goods have been slashed to help residents during the financial crisis – but officials deny there is a shortage.

    However the demand for toilet paper is “presenting problems”, according to an official with state conglomerate Cimex.

    “The corporation has taken all the steps so that at the end of the year there will be an important importation of toilet paper,” the official told state-run radio.

    He added that the country both imports toilet paper and produces its own, but currently Cuba does not have enough raw materials to make it.

    Cuba’s economy is struggling amid increased spending on imports and reduced export income, leaving it short on cash to pay bills overseas.

    “We have been forced to renegotiate debts, payments and other commitments with foreign companies,” President Raul Castro said in a speech on Saturday.

  8. About toilet paper again.
    I always suspected that people were not interested in reading Granma news paper this is what people mainly use as toilet paper for all these years so maybe the government knows that if they distribute real toilet paper then Granma will not sell at all since everyone knows what it says is the news that the state wants you to read and with the slant they want so maybe the reason that Cubans had so little access to toilet paper in all this 50 years is so that the government can show people buying Granma (The official press).

    It is hard to believe that for the Cuban government it’s easier to produce a news paper than toilet paper!

    Naturally the news paper got a function of interest to the government
    brain washing! People used to joke about it saying that they had a literate ass! :-)
    Since for normal Cubans had the toilet paper function!
    I am not really kidding about it at least back in my time we use to use magazines like Bohemia I think because the paper was better for that function, remember we try some Russian magazines but they used to print on a paper that was glossy and it would not function properly :-)
    Sorry is kind of gross having to describe something like that but this is just the small tip of the iceberg of the small comfort things Cubans had to do without.

  9. Further to a post about sanitary products earlier in the year, I read that Cuba is about to run out of toilet paper (e.g. http://www.buenosairesherald.com/BreakingNews/ViewPrint/8500). Of course, given the state of the sewers and water supply, this may make little difference to the quality of life and even reduce marine pollution. But one wonders how much worse things can get before “perfecting socialism” ceases to be the avowed aim of the Castro dynasty.

  10. Trying to justify “stealing from the government” is all very well but the person the taxi driver is really stealing from is the customer.
    It’s not specified in Yoani’s post but well understood that she is not referring to “locals” being overcharged but those despised tourists who, dripping with money, can well afford whatever the taxi driver can rip them off for.
    For those of us who may actually know the typical meter fare from one place to another (particularly common Havana routes), it’s really painful and embarrassing to be constantly asked for stunningly high fares, justified by the driver’s economic conditions. Most of us are happy to pay a reasonable fare (off the meter) and try to tip well for short trips but I’m really weary of fighting with a driver to get him to turn on the meter after being quoted an astronomical price for transport.
    Example: Viazul bus terminal to HAV. About $7-8 CUC on the meter but quoted $25 CUC by my Lada-driving entrepreneur. When I protested, he dropped the fare to $15 CUC but then relented and revealed his meter : hiding, as Yoani shows, behind his giant mirror. To his credit (and possibly to my poor but adequate explanation in Spanish of my incredulity regarding the price to the airport, he did not take a very roundabout route, although he was forced to avoid the more direct major highway due to his crapped-out taxi. I was expecting him to try for a final “no change” ploy and shocked him with a decent tip to “round-off” the fare.
    Example 2: What a shock and pleasant surprise to approach a cab on the Malecon, preparing to bargain a fair price to Playa and have the driver smile and point to his meter. My guess at the fare was actually a bit high, so I rounded up to what I had been prepared to pay, happy that my driver would have a bit to keep for himself after remitting the required amount to “Him”.
    Of course, for a few centavos (CUP) I could just hop a bus but as one of those “money-dripping” tourists, I can afford to support the local taxi system. I just can’t afford to be robbed.

  11. I think I did tell this story somewhere else but here it goes
    When I visited Cuba in 1998 one of the ladies attending the exit ask me that she wanted to review the content of my luggage so she make me get everything out and when she saw I had like 10 films she casually mentioned her little boy’s birthday was coming up and that she did not have film to take a picture and I mentioned to her that she could take one and then she mentioned that they had cameras and that other people were watching her and she asked me to place myself in a way so that they will not see her taking the film and placing it on her pocket then she saw the rechargeable batteries I was also transporting and she also mentioned about a little toy her boy had that did not have batteries to play with. I did immediately put stop to that since from the beginning I realize that she was just taking her cut to pay or compensate herself for what the state did not.
    This to my amazement was my welcome to Cuba after 10 years outside!
    After that I was trying to see if I could rent a car but the guy that was there was telling me that to rent a car I had to get the insurance and they will insure everything but the car wheels I was very concerned about that since I did not had a secure place to park the car and I am sure I could have probably hired someone to take care of the car but decided instead not to rent a car at all.
    Because I figured I could just hired someone to drive me and that’s exactly what I did. I pay someone to drive me anywhere I wanted! Probably cost me a lot less than the rental of the car for the time I was there!

    I am sure many people have more stories to tell about an encounter with Cuba’s corruption!

    The amazing thing is this is very wide spread practice.
    Why does this taxi man, why does this aduana person why any of this people act the way they do?

    Because stealing from the communist state is taking what is rightfully yours!
    Since they already know that the state is fleecing them of what is rightfully theirs!

    The incomprehensible thing is that the government knows I am sure about all these things that are happening but what can they do?
    The managers of this people I am sure are even more corrupted, they probably tell them if I do not get a cut I will get you fired next time you do it and so on!

    So where does this chain stop?
    Does it stop at the head of the government?

    Now if each of these are private companies with some owner
    it is in the best interest of the owner not to be fleece. I am sure some will be successful and some will not! depending on the measures they take with people fleecing them or how good or how bad they are with their employees. On top of that this will not be anymore the responsability of the state. The state function will be to collect taxes from this people! Easier than what they currently have.
    This extreme obsession of the Castro’s of not allowing private property or enterprising when it is the natural way establishing successful economy on any country. Let the invisible had do the work! The function of the state should be to collect the fruits afterward.

    The added benefit is that everything gets decentralize and at each level people can make their own decisions some good and some bad but natural selection will take care of the ones that are not feat for doing business!

  12. Although, Yoani does not mention the word steal. Stealing to “Him”,in Cuba,is not stealing at all, is just a fair retribution, it may be the only way to fight back.People for the most part feel good about it. For the people that gets hurt in the process, well, in America that is called colleteral damage.
    Not a big deal anyway.Everybody does it.
    When I came to America,17 years ago, it was very hard for me to break that habit, I wanted to steal the toilet paper of the Hospital that I was working at, so bad…. that I have to keep telling myself… again and again… hey !!,,, stop you are not in Cuba anymore. Eventually it went away.

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