HAVANA TIMES, Jan 18 — A piquetero (a jitney station attendant) could be the name for the occupation of those who work in a piquera: a terminal of jitney taxis, which are cars that carry a number of independent passengers along pre-set routes.
In Havana, these independent taxis are usually called “almendrones” (literally “big almonds,” due to the shapes of these vintage 1950s vehicles), “private taxis” or simply “maquinas” (machines).
Next to the Havana train terminal is the jitney terminal where one can catch “machines” for Guanabo, referring to a beach area east of the capital and that’s half way to my home in Santa Cruz del Norte.
I usually show up to try and take one of these taxis when I’m in a hurry and the line for the 400 bus route is way too long. The fare for one of these taxis is always a blow to my wallet: 25 pesos in national currency or 1 CUC (about $1.10 USD).
Cabbies who drive the Guanabo-Havana route are usually kind and supportive types, except for a few unfortunate exceptions, and they generally get along well with each other.
Between passengers, though, there sometimes occur small altercations because the drivers always want to completely fill up their taxis. This means packing four people in the back seat and three in the front, including the driver (the machines are usually classic American cars from before the Cuban Revolution, sometimes with modifications). The upshot is that you always end up feeling like a compressed zip file.
To properly pack people into the vehicles is precisely the occupation of the piqueteros, or transportation facilitators. They establish order in the lines of cars and passengers as they show up and distribute the seats – often with a good bit of ordering people around.
The two guys who work in the Guanabo piquera are nicknamed “Sangre” and “Marchante.” One is older and the other younger, but there’s always one of them there with their taxis and their passengers.
At the other extreme end of the line in Guanabo there’s another piquera (terminal) with exactly the same system, [where I can catch another machine to Santa Cruz del Norte.]
When the taxi is full, they’ll give five Cuban pesos (about $.20 USD) to the facilitator on duty. Doing the quick math, if one taxi leaves for Guanabo every five minutes, then twelve machines leave the station every hour.
This means the attendant will make 60 pesos in an hour. In an eight hour day they can therefore make 480 pesos ($24 USD) – a figure far higher than most monthly government salaries (like mine, for example).
I don’t know what piqueteros do with so much money, or if they have to pay taxes to the government or some other contribution.