Hire a taxi driver in Cuba: the YoTeLlevo experience

Hiring a taxi driver at YoTeLlevo is something special. You’re not hiring a driver, you are making a friend who has a taxi and can be your driver -even when you have to pay.

It’s no secret visiting a foreign country is not something you should take lightly. It requires preparation, you have to plan your accomodation, foods, transportation, and other needs you’ll sure have.

Yeah, you’re really busy the moments you’re making sure nothing is left out, not only for you, but maybe for your family too (a teenage daughter? ayayay).

What if we could help you in one thing? Here at YoTellevo we’ve designed a way to help you in the transportation part. But not just any way.

We’ve designed a way that helps you find a good driver for your travel to Cuba -be it a transfer or a tour- and we let you get to meet him or her before you arrive in the island. We do that by connecting  you with three different taxi drivers to have a conversation via email so that you can arrange every detail. In the end you hire the one you think is best.

Our drivers are regular Cuban people who happen to own a car and are in the bussiness of taxi for tourism. You might exchange emails with an accountant, or a fisherman, a musician or a retired pilot.

What you get out of these conversations is what we call the YoTeLlevo experience: you hire a taxi driver that’s going to ride you in your trip, but you also make a friend.

Dan and family meet our drivers

Just to have an idea of what might happen, let’s suppose you are Dan and you are traveling with your wife Lisa and daughter Olivia to Cuba. You find out about YoTeLlevo and are willing to try the service.

You’d like to hire a taxi to transfer you and your family from Havana Airport to your hotel in Varadero. You go to the site and create a travel request online.


Origin-Destination: Aeropuerto José Martí | Havana – Varadero
Date: March 10, 2015 (Tuesday)
Pax: 3
Details: I’m traveling with wife and daughter and would like to go directly from Havana Airport to our hotel in Varadero.


That’s it: 3 drivers just got notified with your request.

At this point I have to tell you that our drivers are independent so they’ll give you different quotes. Also they have their own agenda, and some of them might not be available. But with 3 drivers there’s always a good chance that at least two are interested.

You and your family get a response from 2 of the drivers (the other one? you might be arriving on her birthday). So two emails arrive to your inbox:

Pedro - taxi driver
Hi, I’m Pedro and I’m available for the trip you request. I can take you from Havana Airport to Varadero for 80 CUC.

Cheers, Pedro

 

Mario - taxi driver
Hello Sir or Madam:

First of all a greeting and thank you for your communication with us. About your request of transfer from Havana Airport to Varadero, the price is 90.00 CUC. Thanks again.

Sincerely,

Mario

The next time you open your inbox you see these emails and start evaluating the prices. You conclude they are affordable, and after some thinking you decide on Mario because even when the price is a little bit higher, he seems more formal and appropriate for you. You reply:

Hi Mario,

We accept your offer to drive us to Varadero for 90 CUC. We arrive on Sunwing Flight # WG680 from Toronto at 9:50 AM.

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Dan Scott

It takes Mario some time to respond, because he might not be able to be connected to his email all day. The response comes the next day.

Mario - taxi driver
Hi Mr. Scott, sorry for the delay.

Yes, I’ll sure be there on time. Don’t you worry. I’ll wait for you at the Airport exit with a poster reading ‘Dan Scott & family’. Should we confirm the transfer a few days before the date arrives?

Sincerely, Mario

You reply:

Hi Mario, it’s not necessary to confirm. We’ll be waiting for you and looking for the poster when we arrive. That’s for sure.

Everything keeps going as usual for you. You and Lisa keep planning your trip (Olivia is too busy telling ALL of her friends how much she’ll miss them for two weeks). There are still many things to cope with, but you feel like maybe at least your arrival is going to be different to previous visits, when you had to negotiate your transfer the instant you arrived (and you didn’t enjoy it).

The day before you depart from your country heading Cuba, you get an email from Mario:

Mario - taxi driver
Hi Mr. Scott,

I whish you and your family a nice flight. See you tomorrow.

Mario

This surprises you. Will he actually be waiting us? Now you are feeling like you have a friend in Cuba already, someone you know who is waiting for you -and you haven’t arrived yet. You feel confident and relaxed this time. Looks like the arrival is going to be hassle-free. If he doesn’t show up, you’re simply going to do what you always do: negotiate fares.

The next day when you arrive in the airport, pick up your luggage and head to the exit, you divise a poster with ‘Dan Scott & family’ at the distance. You approach to it. When you get closer, the person holding the poster sees you coming:

Mario:
Hi, Dan Scott??

Dan:
Yeah, you must be Mario, our driver.

Mario:
Yes I am. Nice to meet you in person. And these must be Lisa and Olivia… did you flight well??…

And so on. After fast introductions you go to the car that is waiting just outside. Mario helps you with the luggage and opens the door for Lisa and Olivia to get in the car. You get in the car too and Mario starts the engine. The car starts going.

Mario:
So, the flight was a little bit delayed…

And so starts a friendly conversation with you all, about the weather, what you’re planing to do in Cuba and how Olivia is going to enjoy Varadero so much.

Even when it takes you 2.30 hrs to reach your hotel at Varadero, you feel like time went flying. You’ve learned a bit about Cuba from Mario’s point of view and you’ve even written down some recomendations of foods to taste and places to visit. Your visit to Cuba is becoming increasingly interesting.

You decide you’re going to call Mario some days later for a tour to Havana you’ve been longing to do. Olivia is happier because she’s going to meet sooo many YOUNG people in Havana now.

To make the story short, let’s just say that you end up having a great tour to Havana with Mario, and again you feel you spent your money worthly.

You don’t see Mario again that vacation, but you keep his contact info for future ocassions since he’s been an awesome driver: he introduced you into yuca con mojo and it was yummy, but chicharrones was too fatty for you. (Edit: It’s a shame you didn’t try both foods together. It’s delicious).

How nice was that?

Now, you might argue that your trip was great not because of YoTeLlevo. You’re right, YoTeLlevo simply helped you find a driver. But the driver did put some hours of sparkle in your trip.

Even when the driver was the star, we do believe that having the opportunity to meet someone before arriving in the island and have him or her wait for you and give you the first instructions really helps in giving shape to your trip. If that person can ride you to your hotel, better yet.

On the other hand, if you know the major transportation costs in advance, you’ll be able to plan your budget better, which gives you confidence and happiness. Our drivers can help you with that too.

Anticipation to the costs of taxi rides, directions on how to better spend your time and an interesting and full of stories Cuban person to talk to is what you can expect from the drivers you’ll find at YoTeLlevo.

Need more? Just imagine what a friend can do for you.

It’s real, I work with taxi drivers

This is the first post of this blog and I thought I would write about the bussiness I’m creating: YoTeLlevo. But instead I’m going to start with something different but that’s related to it: taxi drivers.

Everyone agrees that taxi drivers are like trolls nobody wants to approach, monsters that think they are the owners of the road and that their car is a place where you have to play his rules. You use taxis because you have to, not because you like it.

But what if your job was to work with taxi drivers everyday? I’ll tell you: it’s aaaamazing!!!

But before I start an ode to taxi drivers, let me first tell you how it is that I ended up working with a crew of them.

Could this possibly work?

A year ago and during a conversation with some friends I had this idea: why not have people create sort of a travel request or alert in a website, and get some independent taxi drivers notified via email about that travel. It would allow the traveler and the driver to contact each other directly so they could arrange the details: pick up place, date and price, basically.

At first I was thinking we would provide a service for every need and for everyone: need a car with driver for anything? Find one here.

But living in a Caribbean island which economy mostly depends on tourism, it didn’t take long before I realized I should target that market instead of the local, so I set up to do just that.

It didn’t look like a bad idea. After all, this kind of bussiness wasn’t new. Many taxi drivers are waiting in lines in a lot of places around the cities waiting to be hired. It would be great for drivers because they would have a new channel for getting customers, and good for travelers because they would be able to plan everything in advance, and hopefully engage with their driver before they arrived in the island. The idea promised to remove the rush and hassle of hiring a taxi driver.

It in fact looked like a brilliant idea and something one could do easily. It was just a matter of building the web app, finding some drivers and registering them in a database.

So I did.

Now let’s just skip the part where I have a tough journey to building the bussiness and discovering and learning all the values it should offer, and assume I did create it, put it online and put it to work -I got crucial help from a couple of friends, a cousin and my brother.

We are talking about drivers here.

The drivers: hunting, emails, discovery

So I had to find drivers interested in using what I was building, and that’s the first thing I did.

I asked my brother (who’s now in bussiness with me) to help me find some drivers for our agency, and we both started with the task.

We needed drivers that had an email account which they could check regularly, which is not a very common feature in Cuba, specially for non-proffesionals (you know, professionals like journalists and some computer science workers like me). So we decided we’d start tracking them down in classified ads websites -a hot channel right now in Cuba- or by recommendations. Those promoting themselves in the Internet had more chance to have an email account, and the recommendations should come with the has-an-email-account tag.

The hunting began. We sent a bunch of emails to those we found, asking them to join us and help us move some visitors in need for a taxi ride. We also deployed ourselves to the streets, where taxi drivers do their day to day job, and asked some of them.

What we were seeking was drivers that were willing to use our system as it came, and that were good communicating with people -this is the weird part given the label of trolls put on taxi drivers. (yeah, experience, responsibility and a nice car was important too).

On the streets we weren’t very lucky since most of them didn’t have an email account, or they were used to be hired at the moment of the ride, or didn’t have time to arrange the details by email.

Ugh, this is difficult… but it’s better that way

No luck at the beginning, but eventually the email responses began to arrive. Just a few out of many drivers we emailed were interested so as to respond. Many of them simply didn’t take the chance.

You see, driving a taxi is not something new to them, obviously. Neither is finding customers; even if seldom, they manage to find travelers interested in hiring them. Many have very sophisticated methods, like Facebook pages, personal websites or affiliation with other agencies. Some of them have joined together in independent associations. Most of them make good money. Waiting in a line in the streets or outside the airports works for them. Why use one more channel?

What we understood later was that breaking through a well established bussiness was not easy. But also found out that those willing to try our offer were in fact very open minded, good communicators! and really insteresting people who happened to be in the bussiness. There was room for our idea.

We started to find spectacular people: retired pilots, fishermen, accountants. Each brought diversity to place. Each one of them was in the bussiness of transporting turists everywhere in the island, all using their own cars.

They had the experience and knew most of the touristic attractions. They had given rides to tourists many times and understood their needs. They understood the value of engaging with visitors before being hired, and got the idea of what we really wanted: make it easier and safer for the travelers to hire a taxi driver so they could be happy.

Having such people in our crew was a win. We would be able to offer the travelers a catalogue with the best drivers available. After all, the person you travel with is important and can make the difference, so you better have the best driver for your needs.

If I had to choose a motto for what we offer it would be this: Your taxi driver makes the difference. Suit yourself with the best one.

Is it the one with the more stories to tell? Is it that who can be your guide as well as your driver? Is it the type of driver that seats quiet at her seat and only drives? Is it the one with more academic knowledge or the one with more mundane and friendly behavior? Is it the polite, happy, mature, quiet, professionally prepared, extroverted or story-teller driver you are looking for?

No matter how they are like, people prefer different kinds of personalities. And that’s what we are prepared to offer now at YoTeLlevo (okay, at this point you might be wondering what’s the meaning of that name).

Our drivers are awesome

So why do I say that working with these taxi drivers is awesome? Because not only they are a pleasure for their customers, but they also share our vision and are helping us fulfill it everyday.

It’s incredible how fast one discovers that the prestige taxi drivers have is far beyond undeserved. They are in fact awesome people.

Our drivers have been very helpful with all of our requests and questions: give us ideas to atract customers, what are your most demanded services, what places travelers prefer to go more often, should transfer from and to the airport be one of our main offers.

Even on more demanding issues they’ve been receptive: send us a picture to make an avatar, remember you are competing with other two drivers -driver pride pain-, can you please check your email frequently, can you give the traveler a quote in the first response, would you rather say your name to the traveler than being anonymous, would you tell us how it went in your trip with Mr. Smith and family?

Thanks to them we’ve been able to understand the market, create features in our app, and most importantly, make a few travelers happy. They really try hard to impress them and be of help. And that is all we want.

All we have needed is some of their time and their understanding. We’ve had plenty of both, but also have received appreciation.

What would you think of a person that sends a hug on Valentine’s Day and congrats all the women in your family on Women’s Day?

We’ve been working with our drivers for a very short time so far, but yes, I’ll be glad to work with them all the time from now.