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Zero Tolerance Law Creates a Gold Mine for Santiago Taxis

Zero Tolerance Law Creates a Gold Mine for Santiago Taxis
October 01
14:00 2012

With the relatively new zero-tolerance alcohol laws announced earlier in the year, more and more Chileans are having to rely on taxis when going out at night.

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Random checkpoints for drunk drivers are nothing new in many countries.

SANTIAGO — The Chilean police force has not been shy in enforcing the law against drinking and driving. Police checkpoints are a common sight on Friday nights and weekends. This law is nothing new to the rest of the world, however.

Acceptance here in Chile was never going to be easy, given the well engrained custom of having a glass of wine with every meal, or simply downing a couple of beers over a chat with friends. Nonetheless, Chileans have taken notice of the no-nonsense approach of the police and have begun adjusting to the new rules.

The group to most benefit from this, apart from the large number of people who will avoid ending up in a fatal car crash, are the taxi drivers. Zero tolerance alcohol laws, a failing Transantiago bus system, and a metro unable to cope with demand are all making taxi drivers very, very happy. Business is booming so much that taxi permits are being auctioned off to the highest bidder. These permits (for the black and yellow taxis) are now a highly priced commodity. Since only a specific number of permits are issued at any given time, existing ones are being auctioned off at amazing prices. Some are even offering their houses in exchange for a permit.

Currently, there are 21,987 taxi permits for the Santiago Metropolitan Region. The Ministry of Transportation is now expanding this number to include 250 new ones, and they are up for grabs. To be in the race, however, there are a few requirements.

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Black and yellow taxis can be found all over the city. Photo: Hector Gutierrez

You must be a naturalized person in the legal sense, in possession of a vehicle no older than two years, with full options and an engine capacity of 1,451 cubic centimeters or more.  This leads to an overall cost of about CL$6,000,000.

Taxi drivers earn about CL$1,400,000 gross per month, or CL$70,000 per day working Monday to Sunday, 365 days a year. Most taxi drivers openly admit to working close to these hours in order to clear between CL$700,000 and CL$900,000 per month after expenses.

The 250 new permits are being hastily applied for.  However, as one taxi driver told us, it is not surprising that a large percentage of the 250 already have new owners due to the “Pituto”, or “friend”, arrangement.

It seems that the taxi industry has a very real underworld where not everything is managed by government authorities. So, if you are one of the many who will not be able to obtain the new permits and you still want a taxi, you will have to enter the bidding wars for the existing permits.

One thing is clear, though.  It will come at a price.

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Hector Gutierrez Bocaz is a Solicitor and Barrister, admitted in The Supreme Court of New South Wales and The High Court of Australia. He has recently established Chile’s only Australian immigration consultancy firm, Horizonte Australia, and is also the only MARA agent in Chile offering both legal consultancy and immigration advice to Chilean citizens.
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