Chocolate Cars: Unregistered Vehicles in Baja

A complex problem without an easy solution

TIJUANA.- This week, the Tax Administration Service (SAT), in conjunction with Tijuana's municipal police force, has begun an operative to catch drivers of cars with outdated tags and which have not been properly imported into the country. Complaints immediately started flying, and citizens have even taken to social media to warn drivers of the checkpoints so that they won't fall prey to the authorities.

"Chocolate Cars" are those that arrive in Tijuana from the United States but are not properly imported. In recent years, this has become quite a problem and has received the blame for most of the contamination in the city. Owners do not pay registration fees for them, and they are usually in such disrepair that their operation damages city streets. Chocolate cars are usually quite old and have many mechanical failures that contribute to air and ground contamination, and they are usually gas guzzlers too.

How did this problem arise? It is easy to purchase these vehicles, as they are much cheaper than newer cars and are usually the only thing the driver can afford. But what may seem like a solution for the driver becomes a problem for the city.

When the new city and state administration came into office, many campaigns were launched to offer discounts to those who are behind in the payment of public services (such as water). What would happen if one of these campaigns were launched in order to bring chocolate cars out of the shadows, instead of setting up checkpoints to catch them? The government isn't trying to impound these cars, they just want them be properly registered, but herein lies the problem: the high cost of importation in addition to the registration fees.

There are many companies that are dedicated to importing vehicles, but in recent years the cost of importation alone has increased by 150%. This is not to mention the cost of registration of the vehicle, and other fees associated (such as smog checks). How many residents can cover all of these expenses? It is worth noting that most owners of "chocolate cars" also don't have insurance nor do they assume liability when accidents occur, not only to themselves and their car, but third parties as well.

Many have started to reconsider whether it is even worth it to own a car. Reducing the amount of cars in this city is also a gigantic task. Common sense would say that if you can't afford a car you should use public transportation, but this again has tons of implications.

In order for users to be able to rely on public transportation, there would have to be stricter guidelines, or even a complete overhaul of our public transportation system. Unfortunately, Tijuana has one of the most expensive and worst transportation systems in the country.

So, first a regulatory body would need to be tasked with revamping the entire system, including a complete house-cleaning of the transportation union, because it is no secret that public transportation is plagued with a corruption.

Users would need to be able to pay less for transportation, public transportation would need to upgrade its fleet, employ well-trained drivers, just to mention a few minimum requirements. If we compare Tijuana to Mexico City, where metro fare can be purchased for 5 pesos and will take you anywhere in the city on a single ticket, no matter how many transfers you require; there is no comparison.

How much would a similar trip cost in Tijuana? Buses charge 11 pesos per trip, route taxis (known as colectivos) charge 12 pesos and usually won't take you to your final destination. This is not to mention the lack of adequate bus and taxi stops and the fact that public transportation does not run on a schedule in the city. Even when established stops exist the drivers usually don't use them. What would happen if drivers not only were held to the highest standards when driving and had a fixed salary that isn't dependant on how many people get on board?

Other cities have also established bike routes to alleviate traffic congestion and as an alternative that has the added benefit of not contaminating. Not to mention it is good for your health. But Tijuana doesn't have such a thing and biking is more of a danger than an alternative.

For now, the tax authority will continue to flag down chocolate cars as the government and citizens alike attempt to work toward a better solution for what is an enormous problem.

Tell us what you think about "chocolate cars" and public transportation in Tijuana in the comments section.


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