Uber and Cabify have set out on a mission to change how users find public transportation. Instead of waiting on a street corner to flag down a taxi, it’s now as easy as tapping a box on a smartphone. Both Uber and Cabify, which now operate around the globe, offer phone applications that allow the user to almost instantaneously summon a driver who has been contracted by the companies to offer private transportation in their own vehicles. The applications allow users to see which available vehicles are the closest and, with a single touch of the app, call the available driver to pick them up. Since the drivers don’t have to rent or purchase vehicles from a taxi company, the result is a less-expensive ride for the users.
Uber and Cabify are the two most prominent “autonomous taxi” companies in the market today. Over the course of the past couple of years, both have made attempts to enter the Costa Rican market, only to be met with legal headaches. The ruling taxi companies are fighting hard to keep them out, due in part to the lack of regulatory oversight. In reality, the companies’ lower fares concern the taxi companies, which have maintained almost exclusive control of the market for more than 30 years. Now, a prominent Costa Rican businessman, Jose Daniel Duarte Camacho, is joining the fight, pushing for the acceptance of the taxi alternatives through changes in legislative policies. “It’s time that legislators step up and finally address this matter. Every business owner knows that competition is actually good for business growth, but without government accountability, there are too many variables that prohibit these companies from reaching maturity in Costa Rica,” explained Duarte.
There is no clear legislation in the Central American country that allows – or prohibits – companies such as Uber and Cabify from offering their services. When Uber first entered the country almost two years ago, the company was immediately met with protests by the taxi companies, yet it continued to operate due to the absence of legislation. Those protests have continued until now, with isolated cases of extreme aggression being registered against some Uber drivers. There has been so much turbulence over this matter,” he indicated, “and who really suffers are the citizens. They are caught in the middle of the battle and are stuck behind the indecisiveness of legislators.” To date, neither the Executive nor the Legislative branches of Costa Rica’s government have moved to address the legalities of the operations. As one of Costa Rica’s leading heads of business, Duarte has made it a priority to push the government into taking the issue more seriously, and to finally accept the companies as legally operating entities. Last year, Costa Rica registered 16,000 Uber drivers. Cabify followed on the heels of Uber, but hasn’t grown nearly as much, with less than 7000 private operators being registered.
Duarte is a Costa Rican native who began his business career more than 20 years ago. He opened a small auto parts and customization center in Heredia, Costa Rica with a virtually nonexistent budget. The business, DecoCar, sparked Duarte’s entrepreneurial spirit and is still thriving today. Through his implementation of strict controls, it is now able to support itself, giving Duarte the freedom to concentrate on other projects while managing an oversight role in operations. He has grown his business portfolio to operate more than 20 different operations, proving him to be a successful entrepreneur at home and abroad, and tirelessly work on improving Costa Rica’s business community. His businesses range from DecoCar to e-commerce sites, and he is also involved in a software development company. Additionally, Duarte was hand-picked to become a partner and Commercial Director of marketing company DLB Group Worldwide. DLB is an internationally-recognized marketing company with offices in Venezuela, Mexico and, with Duarte’s recruitment, Costa Rica. He was recruited directly by Larry Hernandez, the founder of DLB, to head operations in Costa Rica, and has been responsible for negotiating major contracts with companies like DirectTV, Audi, Subway and DHL.