Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Orderly Quito

The taxis in Quito are new, professional and pleasant – as well as cheap. I was told there is virtually no such thing as a rouge taxi here. That as long as you flag down an official, yellow one, you don’t have to worry about being robbed, like in other Latin American countries. Yesterday I asked a taxi driver how the taxi system works.

He told me that in order to drive a taxi, one must be a member of a cooperative, that has rules for entry as well as standards that must be fulfilled (such as painting the car bright yellow). He said that membership must be purchased, but not anyone can buy it. Before being approved, a potential driver must submit a folder of personal documents in which factors such as the legality of the car, criminal history are checked. He can sell, or even give away his membership, he can’t sell or give it to anyone. Whoever takes over the membership has to submit his papers and be approved.

He said that most drivers tend to purchase newer model cars, and replace them every 3-4 years, because passengers won’t flag down taxis with old cars.

“If they see an old taxi, they’ll see a newer one coming just behind it, and wait for the better car,” he said. “They want to travel in comfort. So if a driver wants to get a lot of clients, he’ll make sure he has a nice car.”

“So one has to have some money to start as a taxi driver in Quito?” I asked.

“Yes,” he said. “It’s like any investment in a new business.”

He told me it is against the law to drive what are called “pirate taxis,” taxis that work outside the cooperative system. Most importantly, he said the police enforce the law. When they come across a pirate taxi, they take away the car and charge heavy fines. That enforcement seems to be the most important aspect in ensuring passenger safety.

I’m liking Quito better on this visit than my previous two. Perhaps it’s because I’m in a nice hotel, because I’m surrounded by interesting, professional people, because I took a really cool bike trip out into the nature and hot springs. Or maybe it’s because I have a regular view of thick groves of eucalyptus trees lining the mountain tops and the upper level view that allows me to look upon the orderly city as a toy town, in constant action.

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