14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 27 December 2016 – Hundreds of people are crowded right now in the “last hour” bus terminals, or are on the waiting lists. With the regularly scheduled seats sold out, travelers sleep in the floors of these places and eat frugally, while dreaming of a vehicle that will get them home to spend New Year’s with their families.
In mid-December, the newspaper Granma reported that the Voyager Company would put on sale new seats for interprovincial transport for the end the year. However, the tickets sold out in a couple of days and thousands of customers have been left stranded at “last hour” terminals throughout the country.
This time, unlike other years, the so-called “waiting list” was not addressed with a greater number of vehicles. The Business Group of Automotive Transport Services preferred to sell in advance the additional tickets to travel between 22 December 2016 and 7 January 2017.
The state transport company sold 9,000 seats above those offered by the regular National Bus Service, but only the most forward-thinking were able to get the tickets. The agencies that sell the tickets experienced days of huge crowds, and five days after the official announcement, tickets to Camaguey and Guantanamo were sold out.
Private transport companies provide only a little relief. Their high prices make it difficult for many travelers to use their services, because they can only afford the state rates.
“I know the face of almost everyone here, because most of these people have been here for many days,” confides the employee who takes care of the men’s toilet in the Villanueva last hour station in Havana. Chaos and discouragement reigns in the facilities, where the average stay is “four or five days” according to the worker.
“The police are coercing people to get them to leave,” he explained to 14ymedio freelance reporter Juannier Matos Rodriguez, who was waiting in Villanueva Monday to travel to Baracoa, Guantanamo. Entire families have placed cardboard on the floor to sleep and the uniformed police patrol the place.
“Several passengers have approached the employees asking for them to arrange extra buses so that all these families can travel, but they do not respond,” says the young man. “The waiting list for Santiago de Cuba is not moving, it’s been stuck on the same numbers for two days,” he adds.
The most desperate, with the resources available, pay between 14 and 15 Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) for a ride on a private truck bound for Santiago de Cuba, twice as much as the state bus. These are cargo vehicles re-configured for the transport of passengers. The best ones have cushy seats and even air conditioning, but in most cases they are uncomfortable and hot.
The National Bus Company serves 132 routes and in the first nine months of this year it moved 7.6 million people, but when holidays approach, the system collapses in the face of high demand. Most of the state-owned equipment is Yutong brand buses from China, with a decade of overuse and poor mechanical conditions.
The deterioration of the vehicles has combined this year with cuts in fuel consumption that affect the entire country. Passenger transport has been among the sectors most affected, although the government has also imposed restrictions on electricity consumption and a drastic reduction in the state sector’s quota for gasoline or diesel.
Earlier this year, a discussion on the Roundtable TV program confirmed that interprovincial transportation only meets 70% of demand.
“Why doesn’t ‘Cuba Says’ come here now?” a woman at the Villanueva last hour station complained Monday afternoon, in an allusion to the official television program critical of the bureaucracy and laziness. Several passengers recorded scenes with their mobile phones and from time to time a shout was heard over the general murmur: “A truck arrived for Holguín!”
After an announcement like this many throw themselves into the race, pushing and shoving to the point of small brawls, to board the vehicle. The police pull some people out of the melee and put them in their patrol cars. Everyone wants to get out of the hell the Villanueva station has become.