Rafael is a veteran Arcade City driver & our new regional Field Director for Puerto Rico. We asked him to share experiences and insights into the hardships of working professionals on the island. Rafael is situated between two worlds: an old one which has been failed by the prevalent power systems, and an emerging one in which individuals are able to manufacture their own solutions using peer-to-peer technologies.
space.elf: Why did you and your family decide to come to the States?
Rafael: My wife was a teacher in Puerto Rico. Over there, they only pay teachers about $21,000 a year and they’re not treated very well. Teachers have to pay out of their own pocket for their students’ school supplies, books, and photo copies. If the classroom needs a fresh coat of paint, they have to paint it themselves. There’s little stability; you could get relocated to a new district a month before the school year starts and there’s nothing you can do about it. You have to pack up your family and move. Forget about owning a home.
I was working as a taxi tour guide during the day and a server at night. I was working around the clock and didn’t have enough time to spend with my family. For the industries we were in, wages were depressed and unstable compared to the States, which is why we came here.
space.elf: What’s the situation like now for your friends and family back home in Puerto Rico?
Rafael: The economy is growing very fast in certain areas - especially customer service, food and hospitality industries. The problem is wages. Professionals are choking. They don’t earn anything close to what their counterparts earn stateside.
Some sectors, such as the tech industry, are stabilizing. If you’re a programmer or an engineer, you’re fine. But the salary for public service workers in Puerto Rico is very bad - police officers, social workers, nurses - these people have it the worst.
Another problem is the corporations. They also treat Puerto Ricans employees like second class citizens. (For reference, Uber pays Puerto Rican drivers about 40 cents a mile, compared to US, which is currently about 84 cents a mile. Arcade City drivers, on average, make $2.00 a mile.)
space.elf: How has the aftermath of hurricane Maria affected the economy? What has it been like in terms of community recovery?
Rafael: It’s been total chaos, when you’re talking about bureaucracy. Lots of corruption. A few individuals have benefited greatly but the rest continue to suffer. There’s been a mass exodus to the US since Maria.
On the other hand, the people who remained are staying positive. Everything is in bloom again and tourism is returning. Every county on the island has all hands on deck to rebuild. But the struggle is real. People have rebuilt what they can, and the rest is just waiting there for proper funding.
space.elf: I know the relationship between Puerto Rico and the US has always been complicated, but how has public opinion changed since Trump came to power, specifically in light of the president’s unwillingness to provide adequate disaster relief?
Rafael: People have been brainwashed into thinking they need the US to survive - they don’t think they can do it themselves. It’s been 100 years of them thinking that they need US for infrastructure. The truth is, in Puerto Rico, nobody is going to save the day - it has to be done by the people.
And it’s really starting to happen. People are becoming self sufficient. They saw what happened when they relied on the government. People always thought they had the US as backup… and now with Trump, we’ve seen clearly that is not the case.
space.elf: What are some ways people are becoming more self sufficient?
Rafael: Puerto Rico is rich in natural resources. We have everything we need to live a good life, naturally. Back in the day, before the 1940s, we were running on hydroelectric. We were almost using no fossil fuels back then. Now, they’ve monopolized the electricity. I was paying a $400/ month electricity bill for a family of 4. That was just a few years ago. It’s wild. Way more than in the States. No one can afford it. People are going bankrupt just to pay the electricity bill, and it’s not even reliable. You saw after the hurricane, 43% of the people on the island lost service. Many died. The power grid is so vulnerable.
But there’s hope. Puerto Rico is in a unique position right now to become the most advanced territory - by necessity. We don’t need Walmart, Walgreens, none of that. We want solar panels on our houses. We want technology! Agriculture! Farm-to-table everything. We can create our own systems, our own economy. We can be self sustaining, and set an example for the rest of the world.
space.elf: How can decentralized p2p platforms like Arcade City help?
Rafael: At the heart of Puerto Rico is the students. They are socialists, nationalists. They don’t want corporations. What they want is a new model. More trendy, more technological, more community based.
Right now, we need platforms like Arcade City to bloom. Build the app for people who are already in the business so they can create communities themselves. Arcade City enables entrepreneurs to form local guilds where drivers are able to set their own business hours, set their own fare rates, unionize, and gain a loyal customer base. There’s no middle man there to take a cut; Arcade City drivers keep all of their earnings, and they can receive compensation in the way they see fit. People will have the freedom to be creative.
With models like Arcade City, we will finally be able to help those who have been taken advantage of and overlooked by the big rideshare companies. For Puerto Rico, Arcade City brings more than just rideshare: they bring hope.