June 30, 2007

The taxi chronicles: The cheapskate passenger

street scene, La Ceiba, HondurasNo shortage of taxis in La Ceiba

Being without a car, I've had occasion to take a few taxis lately. I always like to get a conversation going to hear what they have to say. I'll be posting a few taxi stories for your enjoyment. El Jefe has taken a zillion taxi rides lately so maybe he'll give us a few stories, too.

Some background: Within La Ceiba proper, taxis have a set rate of L.15 (US $0.80) per person during the day and L.20 (US $1.26) at night. The further outside of the central area of town, the higher the rates. Those rates are not regulated and are subject to negotiation with the driver. For example, generally to get a taxi from town to our house, we will be quoted anywhere from L.40 (US $2.12) to L.80 (US $4.24) and usually end up agreeing upon L.40-50.

A collectivo taxi generally has a set route and will carry three or four people who all pay the reduced collectivo rate. Some are very strict about sticking to their route; some are more flexible and will drop you off somewhere along the way or take you to a particular destination in town instead of the collectivo taxi stand.The collectivo route that goes several miles beyond our colonia has a rate of L.20 per person, quite a bargain compared to the individual taxi rates.

We caught a collectivo taxi along the highway to go into town the other night. There was one lady with a baby in it already. The lady was being dropped off at a rather large colonia (neighborhood) so naturally the driver was asking for directions after he pulled off the highway. Each time he asked, "Straight?," the woman would respond with "Cuanto es?" (How much is it?) This happened three or four times. At one point the driver finally told her L. 20 and she scrambled to hand him the money.

Continuing along through the colonia, he would ask, "Straight, Seño*?" and she would say "Tenga!" (Take the money!), waving the bill around his ear. We finally reached an end to the road and stopped. He asked "Right, left??!" and she was saying "Tenga! Tenga!" almost frantically.

This was so strange to me. I almost thought that maybe she had never ridden in a taxi before and didn't realize that they don't know where you live unless you tell them! But that was a silly thought, because most everyone rides taxis in La Ceiba at sometime or another.

After she was dropped off, I turned to El Jefe and said, "Did you hear that? That was so strange!" He said, "You know why she did that? She was trying to get him to set a price before he realized how far into the colonia he had to drive."

Taxi drivers will often consider your set rate L.20 trip to end at the nearest entrance to wherever you are going. That is less true for individual taxis in town but more true the further outside of town you are going. You really can't blame them with the low set fares and the price of gas what it is. Usually if you want them to take you all the way to your house, they'll charge an extra L.5 (U.S. 26 cents) − That's fair, don't you think?!

Actually, in this case we drove through one or more colonias into another one. It was a long way. I would guess it was almost a mile out of the driver's way, part of it on dirt roads, and it wasn't the colonia where she said she was going which is right off the highway.

The lengths people will go to save L.5 is incredible. Especially when they are trying to trick someone out of the money.

Now before you say "Oh, she was probably a poor woman," what about the poor taxi driver? He had to pay for the gas. I don't often stick up for taxi drivers but in this case, I think the woman was wrong.

*Seño is slang. It is used when the person doesn't know if a female is a Señora (married) or Señorita (single).

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