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Cuba privatizes taxi service in latest economic reform

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Taxi drivers in Cuba, who until now have been government employees, are to become self-employed workers, the latest in a raft of economic reforms on the Communist island.

State-run media reported on Wednesday that the government was making the change with the goal of improving the island's slow and unreliable livery service.

It also hopes to pare down the bloated government payroll on this island of some 11.1 million people.

A private taxi pilot program, which has been underway since 2010 in Havana and the nearby beach resort area of Varadero, now will be expanded island-wide, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said Tuesday.

The reform will help smoothe out "irregularities in service" and a halt a decline in quality of cars in the islands' taxi fleet, among other challenges.

The Havana government said it envisions that taxi drivers will work in organized cooperatives and lease vehicles from the state.

Taxi fares will be payable both in Cuban pesos and in foreign currency, according to Granma, providing another source of coveted hard currency for the cash-strapped island.

President Raul Castro in 2011 introduced sweeping economic reforms aimed at breathing new life into Cuba's decrepit Soviet-style economy.

The reforms have covered everything from the currency system to the kinds of jobs Cubans are permitted to take on as self-employed workers.

Castro also has created hundreds of cooperatives from former state enterprises, in a bid to reduce the legions of state workers who get a government paycheck.

Officials said there are now some 445,000 privately employed workers. The state nevertheless remains the Cuba's largest employer, with nearly five million employees.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/140108/cuba-privatizes-taxi-service-latest-economic-reform