Taking a shared cab in Havana
More than a few friends, most of them Brits, have been amused when having a “shared taxi” experience during their stay in the city. All of them ask how Cubans, in this case those living in Havana, travel all around the city in a country where having your own car can be considered a luxury. Taking the bus is a risky choice in endless Cuban summer while paying a full fee taxi is too expensive for daily rides. So, we honoured our well-known inventive capability and create our own type of transportation: shared vintage cabs!
Very peculiar cars are the ones “converted” into shared taxis. Most of them classic properties moving around noisy and crowded Havana; if we add up their ages we could easily get a million years! So called “almendrones”, or classic American cars, had saved many Cuban lives and I believe they will continue doing it at least for the next decade.
How much they cost? Can non-Cubans take a ride? Same fee? Is it safe? How can these 60 years old cars still be working and being value for money? Well, as almost everything in Cuba, the answer is not that easy. You have to be open mind!
The concept of a shared cab comes from the fact that many clients can use the same route in their journey, so they will share the bill. In the real world, it works this way: taxi drivers had design routes, so everyone knows where to find them. These routes connect almost every spot of the city, according the distance covered is the fee of the journey. Every passenger pays same price for the ride, it doesn’t matter if you take the taxi for a shorter ride than the others. When you get out of the car, another passenger can stop the car and take your former place in it.
Every time a new client gets in the car, previously knowing its route, he pays the fee at the end of it. How much for a ride? It depends of the route. But usually they cost 10 Cuban National pesos, not 10 cuc! More or less the equivalent of 0.50 cuc per ride, you can see why it is an affordable choice. The most used route for visitors is the one connecting Old Havana and Vedado for 10 Cuban pesos per passenger. Now, you must know very well where are you going to, so you can ask properly to your taxi driver because there are different ways to go to Vedado from Old Havana (same when doing the opposite journey), and different taxis may take different avenues. You must stop them on the streets, using the typical action of raising a hand, then ask them their “path”; you’ll get a fast response. Don’t be shy and ask them, they’ll pleased to help you.
Normally there are five places in a classic American car: two at the front and three in the backside; you’ll be sitting in one of them, the rest will be filled with unknown passengers. But taking these kind of taxis also means getting in touch with different people, sometimes priceless characters! Safe? Yes, just face regular risks of taking a taxi. Perhaps if you are out late in the evening, it’s a better choice to grab a conventional yellow cab, but normally shared taxis are a low-risk choice. Another plus (depending how much you like loudly reggeaton) is the fact that almost 90% of them are considered moving discos: music is guaranteed! If you are going to like it, well that’s another history but certainly it’ll be a truly Cuban experience.
I’ve heard many times the phrase: “I want to experience the real Cuba, where real Cubans live”. Well, this is part of our routine. It’s the way for many people to get to their jobs: doctors, engineers, professors, students, bartender or a maid. Sometimes it is an easy issue, others a tricky one, colourful though; you’ll probably arrive home with new histories or latest gossip on the streets. At the end…that’s the real Cuba: hard but musical.