14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 29 November 2017 — The buildings pass by, a piece of blue sky, trees and some newspaper stands. Through the window of the only all-electric bus running through Havana, the city seems different. “This is the future,” the driver tells the passengers of the vehicle that serves route 18 between the Palatino terminal and Avenida del Puerto.
This Tuesday, getting on the shiny bus was much more than a trip. The modern technology from the manufacturer Yutong gives the vehicle a range of up to 180 miles. Although its usual fare should be 40 centavos (less than 2 cents US), yesterday no one returned change to those who paid with a full Cuban peso.
The equipment, with tinted windows against the sun and lightly padded seats, was the target of jokes and speculations throughout the day.
At the first stop, near the Vía Blanca, the young people at a nearby high school gathered to enter as a group through its wide doors. The E12 bus is eco-friendly with Zero Emission, moves at a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour and has Michelin tubeless tires.
But none of this seemed to matter too much to the teenagers. Their conversation after sitting down wasn’t about the batteries or the fact that the bus does not consume fossil fuel, but about the efficient air conditioning that keeps the interior cool.
In a country where most of the year the thermometer climbs over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, it is no small thing to be able to move around the city without fat drops of sweat trickling down in a sweltering public bus. The lack of crowding in the aisles and the fact that on the walls of the vehicle no one has yet marked it with phrases in the style of “Claudia loves Maikel” also seems strange.
“Soon there will be some self-employed guy renting out overcoats,” jokes a young woman. Beside her, in the blue high school uniform, a classmate is skeptical: “This will not last long.” Most of the conversations passengers share across the seats are expressions of regret for the deterioration that, inevitably, the vehicle will suffer.
The suspicion that cleanliness, air conditioning and comfort cannot withstand the passage of time, in the face of apathy and the lack of control that reigns on the island, dominates the conversations. “Here everything starts well and ends badly,” says an old woman who pinches the seat covering to see what it is made of.
“They say it has cameras and sensors in the back door,” warns a dark-haired man. “That is so that nobody leaves without paying,” the young woman who travels next to her responds. “And the seat is intelligent,” he adds, “that means you sit and it takes care of you, you can pass your hand over it and other things…” he says with a mischievous look.
A woman comes on with a string of onions she just got after “walking all over Havana.” From the bundle, thin layers fall off and land on the spotless floor. “Compañera, be careful, you have already started messing it up,” her seatmate scolds her, asking her where she bought the onions, because “they’re impossible to find.”
The driver’s assistant, in addition to collecting the fares, insists that nobody travel standing up and stares across the bus from one side to the other like a police officer. In the middle of the trip a lady climbs on with a ten-year-old girl and gets upset because she can’t stand next to her daughter. “Are you going to take care of the depraved ones who want to take advantage of her?” she asks the employee, who insists that she cannot stand in the aisle.
The first discussion of the day begins with an incident involving a dozen neighbors all willing to explain the dangers of a minor traveling alone and “the squaring of the circle,” according to a young man, who talks about bureaucratic regulations. “Coming or going here, now it is forbidden to travel standing,” he mocks.
A gentleman of advanced age, with worn out clothes, can’t bear even three minutes inside the vehicle. “Let me get off, it is very cold,” he says, yelling at the driver to open the door. “Get used to it, this will be the public transport of 2020,” the driver manages to tell him before a man gets on with a wireless speaker blasting reggaeton.
The bus runs without incident along Calzada del Cerro. When all the seats are occupied it does not even slow down at the bus stops, always crowded at that time of the morning. As they pass by, people on the street open their eyes, point and comment about the shiny body. “That, that’s the one they put on the television,” one hears when the door opens.
A couple of tourists take a photo at the insistence of their informal guide who “sells” the wonder of being able to spot the first bus of that type in all of Cuba. “You will not see this anywhere else in this country, it’s pure novelty,” he emphasizes.
The vehicle is about 40-feet long, 8 feet wide and 10 feet high, with 35 seats, five of them for people with disabilities, and a wider aisle that allows 70 passengers to stand, despite the ban from yesterday.
At the top of Infanta Street, a young mother approaches with her seven-year-old son, loaded with packages. “Mommy, this bus is new,” exclaims the boy excitedly. “This really is a bus,” he repeats as he runs his hand over the handrails and the edge of the seats.
The euphoria is painted on his little face, until a man who travels two stops further shouts: “I’ll trade you the bus for your mother.” A collective laugh fills the interior of the gleaming bus before the driver’s grim gaze. “No, because the mother is mine and this bus is not yours,” the boy replies, adding a curse that remains floating in the air.
When it reaches the end of the route, there is another line of people waiting on Avenida del Puerto to make the return trip. New comments emerge as the passengers board. No one comments on the benefits of this transport to the environment or the fuel savings. The first one to board starts off with a joke: “How much do I have to pay for the electricity?”
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