Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live
14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 20 April 2017 — The transport
ministry (MITRANS) has issued a new provision that obligates Havana's
pedicab drivers to have visible identification that specifies the
municipality where they can operate.
The sticker carries the driver's license number and the name of the
municipality. An official calling herself Tamara explained
to 14ymedio that MITRANS inspectors in the Central Havana district will
ensure that "if you do not live in this municipality you can't put the
sticker on your vehicle that authorizes you to operate here."
The office is located in a half-wrecked building on Zanja Street with a
poorly painted façade and tree growing out of it, from a seed that fell
into a crack in the building.
Sheathed in her blue MITRANS inspector's uniform, Tamara barely looks up
from the papers she has in front of her on her desk, to clarify that if
you don't have a license, don't come. "In addition, they have to bring
The situation of transport in the capital, traditionally complicated,
has become chaotic in recent times due to fuel restrictions and other
bureaucratic measures that have affected private taxi drivers. Driving a
pedicab is not very profitable, since drivers usually charge 1 Cuban
convertible peso (roughly $1 US) for relatively short stretches, but
unlike the so-called almendrones– the shared fixed route taxis whose
name comes from the "almond-shape" of the classic American cars used in
that service – they do not run on a fixed route and take the customers
"to the door of their house." Most of them are young people without a
defined profession who work for an invisible boss who owns the
equipment, and whom they have to pay more than half of what they collect
A tour of the pedicab stands where the drivers usually find their
customers, found that only a few drivers were displaying the
identification. Very close to Chinatown a young man barely 20, who
identifies himself as Yuslo, gives the impression of not feeling
threatened by the new measure.
"I am a Palestinian* from Mayarí Arriba, I rent in a room in the Cerro
district and I circulate around Old Havana. I don't have an address in
the capital on my identity card or license, I am a pirate who fights to
survive. If things get ugly I make the sticker my own way and put it on
the front of the bike," he explains resolutely.
A little more measured and optimistic is Alberto Ramirez, who despite
being in quarantine still has the energy to live from his physical
effort. "We are accustomed to occasionally 'inventing' something of this
type. A few days later the fever passes and no one remembers anything. I
have my sticker to work in Old Havana because I have been living there
for more than 20 years in a state shelter, but if a client asks me to
take him to Coppelia (outside his district), I'll charge him what the
trip is worth and take him."
While Alberto talks, a colleague at the pedicab stand keeps making
gestures of disagreement. Finally he intervenes to say, "They are the
ones who call the shots and do what they want. You don't have to be an
engineer to realize that this measure is a barbarity. It's fine to have
control but if no one cares where a minister or a chief of something
lives in order to work here or there, why do they have to worry about
where the unfortunates who survive from our work live? There's no one
who understands it," protests the pedicab driver.
Without taking the time to answer another question he gets on his bike
and in the worst possible mood concludes the conversation. "I'm going
home. I don't feel like working."
*Translator's note: Havanans call Cubans from the provinces who settle
in their city "Palestinians" – a reference to the fact that without a
resident permit, they are "illegals" in the city.
Source: Pedicab Drivers Can Only Work Where They Live – Translating Cuba