This will be bad for taxi drivers, but good for almost everyone else. More people will be able to find work as drivers. More tourists will come to PR since they find it easier, cheaper, faster to get around. More places on the island will be visited since most taxi drivers stay within the metro area. If the taxi drivers feel it will put their taxis out of business, they too can become Uber drivers.
Uber prepares to launch in Puerto Rico, recruits drivers
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Ride-booking service Uber expects to arrive in Puerto Rico this summer, a welcome addition for many in a U.S. territory known for expensive cab rides and spotty public transportation services that have worsened amid a dire economic crisis.
Government officials said Tuesday they are requesting public comments on a proposed measure that would allow for creation of ride-hailing apps such as San Francisco-based Uber. In the meantime, Uber will reach out in upcoming weeks to Puerto Ricans interested in becoming drivers, said spokesman Luis De Uriarte.
“We want to be in Puerto Rico as soon as possible,” he said. “They can transform their cars into small enterprises.”
Uber already operates in more than 400 cities including Mexico City, Paris and Sao Paulo, where the company has faced angry protests organized by taxi drivers.
It might be no different in the U.S. territory.
Otoniel Adorno, president of a taxi driver union, said drivers already are suffering under a 10-year economic slump that is worsening.
“We are already forcing ourselves to work 14, 16 hours a day so we can break even,” he said, adding that Uber would kill them financially. “That would be devastating for us.”
But Puerto Ricans are celebrating Uber on social media, noting there are few affordable or reliable alternatives for people without cars.
“It’s the best thing that could happen,” said Jimmy Diaz, a 30-year-old entrepreneur. “It’s a company that’s going to help the island as well. It will create simple and flexible jobs for a lot of people.”
The island of 3.5 million people has a nearly 12 percent unemployment rate, higher than any U.S. state. It also faces a $70 billion public debt load that the governor has said is unpayable and needs restructuring.
A $5000 annual registration fee to be a Uber driver is excessively high. Such a high fee would dissuade many potential drivers from becoming Uber drivers.
SAN JUAN — Uber, a popular transportation network company (TNC), as well as similar firms such as Lyft and Wingz, are now free to enter the Puerto Rico market after the local Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP) recently filed a regulation that eases government restrictions on such services, providing an alternative to taxis and private vehicles on the island.
Although it is still not yet clear when such services will become available on the island, TNC services will reportedly be available at least in the San Juan metro by summertime or before year’s end. While news of the development has been mostly well-received by people on social media, some local tourism players have decried the manner in which the entrance of TNCs has been carried out, claiming that the new regulatory framework represents an unfair competitive advantage for TNCs that affects local taxi drivers and other transportation service providers.
TNCs, as defined in 2013 by the California Public Utilities Commission, use an online-enabled platform to connect passengers with drivers using their personal, non-commercial vehicles. In most cases, the online platform takes the form of a mobile application, like in the case of Uber. In contrast to a traditional taxi service, in which clients have to call and explain their current location and where they are headed, sometimes with some difficulty, the Uber app sends all the necessary information directly to the driver’s phone.
This process is carried out through the Global Positioning System, or GPS. When a client hails a vehicle through the app, the system looks for nearby vehicles. The customer is shown different fares for each vehicle and, once a vehicle is chosen, the driver knows exactly where the customer is via the GPS map. The transaction is also cashless, and instead uses a customer’s credit card that is linked to the app through which the fare is charged electronically.
The entrance of Uber and similar companies has been challenged in several markets around the world in recent years, mostly by taxi industry groups. Puerto Rico has not been the exception in this regard, with a bill filed by Popular Democratic Party Sen. Antonio Fas-Alzamora in early 2015 that sought to block the entrance of these companies to the local market. However, the upper chamber ultimately defeated Senate Bill 1209 and asked for its revision; it is currently in limbo.
By contrast, the recently filed DTOP ruling significantly eases restrictions on TNCs, specifically by excluding TNC vehicles from the jurisdiction of the Public Service Commission and the Puerto Rico Tourism Company, which regulate taxi and limousine services, respectively. Among the requirements that the DTOP ruling does establish is drivers must pay an annual permit of $5,000, have their vehicle properly insured, and maintain a zero-tolerance policy against alcohol consumption and drug use.
After DTOP filed the regulation, a 30-day period was imposed for any interested parties to submit comments and amendments proposals, which ended Sunday. Work is underway for a final version of the regulation to go into effect, according to reports.
When it comes to Uber, the company has long had its sights on the Puerto Rico market. In mid-2014, the firm put out an employment advertisement in several career websites, including Mogul and VentureLoop, seeking an associate general manager in charge of the San Juan area. Among the tasks listed in the ad’s job description, the notice stated, “[working] with Uber’s launch team to launch and manage Uber San Juan.”
The company, based in San Francisco and launched in 2009, boasts a presence in more than 60 countries and 404 cities worldwide. By late-2015, Uber was worth an estimated $62.5 billion.