Uber in Costa Rica was born in August of 2015. Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or somewhere in between? It all depends on who you ask. Passengers love it and say it is much better and cheaper than taxis. One user reports, “Uber is the absolute cheapest way to get around (besides buses). We use Uber at least once every few weeks to go out to dinner if we want to have some drinks. It is cheap, reliable, and we have never had a bad experience.” Another Uber client provided this example. He took an Uber downtown in San Jose recently and it cost $5. When he went back home he took a taxi because his phone had died. The same route without traffic cost $26. With prices like these, it’s no wonder that in the first three years of operation, Uber in Costa Rica registered 738,000 users and contracted more than 22,000 drivers.
However, if you ask a Costa Rican taxi driver, you’ll get a completely different opinion about Uber. Taxi drivers hate Uber! They contend that unlicensed private taxi services are not legal in Costa Rica. Last year they went on strike multiple times protesting Uber. They set up road blocks or organized hundreds of cabs to slow drive, impeding traffic on major highways. Confrontations and even violence have marred some of the protests. It has been reported that taxi drivers have identified Ubers in traffic, forced them to the curb, and taken out their frustrations on Uber cars with rocks and tire irons.
Where does the government stand on Uber? In August 2018, the directors of the transportation ministry (MOPT) and traffic police announced the court’s decision that Uber and other ride sharing enterprises are illegal under current laws. Nevertheless, Uber continued operations and requested that the government consider changing the laws. After lengthy discussions, a bill was introduced on January 22, 2019 that would legalize Uber and similar ride sharing platforms, thus allowing them to coexist with taxis.
Costa Rican president Alvarado explained: “As a Government we have the responsibility to work to ensure the well-being of all people. We are taking a step in that direction today, introducing a bill that regulates the digital transportation platforms such as Uber”. According to the transportation minister, Rodolfo Méndez Mata, Costa Rica must accept the reality of the new technologies and economic models that are already regulated in other parts of the world. Their comments seem to indicate that Uber is here to stay.
What was the outcome of the proposed legislation? According to the terms, Uber will be legally recognized if it meets the following requirements:
1. Pays a registration fee of almost $14,000,000.
2. All drivers register with the Costa Rican Social Security service (CCSS).
3. Pays 13% sales tax on all ride services.
Although Uber in Costa Rica has stated its willingness to pay taxes to operate legally, it has yet to comply with the government imposed regulations. So where does that leave the potential Uber passenger? Uber continues to operate and has even expanded to areas outside the Central Valley (San Jose) region. On April 15, 2019, it announced service in several tourist areas including Liberia, Nicoya, Manuel Antonio (Quepos) and Jacó. Ubers have been seen in Tamarindo and Playas del Coco, popular Guanacaste beach towns.
What does an Uber ride cost in Guanacaste? The rates for some recent rides:
Liberia to Liberia airport $9
Liberia Airport to Playas del Coco $18
Liberia to Playa Hermosa $25
These are substantially lower than the Red Taxis.
There are a few things to keep in mind if you decide to use Uber.
* The transit police usually ignore Ubers. However, if they do detain an Uber for operating illegally, passengers are usually told that they are free to go.
* If you request an Uber at the San Jose airport, it makes sense to avoid a conflict between the taxi drivers and Uber driver. So when you’re picked up, put some distance between yourself and the line of orange taxis.
* If you don’t know the exact address of your destination (that’s common in Costa Rica), choose a landmark nearby.
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