Clearly The Leaders Don’t Travel By Bus! / 14ymedio, Regina Coyula

Long lines to board a bus in Havana. (Aitor Herrero Larrumbide)
Long lines to board a bus in Havana. (Aitor Herrero Larrumbide)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Regina Coyula, Havana, 8 September 2015 – The September 7 news broadcast included a report about public transportation in the Cuban capital. Apart from the curiosity of observing the incipient or frank obesity of almost all the leaders who appear on television, they and other workers in the sector are concerned about the vandalization the buses are subjected to, the frequent breakdowns because they are so overloaded every day, the seven million dollars destined for the purchase of new equipment and spare parts, and the efforts of the company and the country’s leaders to improve service. Although it wasn’t mentioned, the city’s fleet was renovated in 2007 and has now experienced eight years of overuse.

For longer than I thought they would, the buses maintained their good appearance, unmarked and clean. I expected to see these buses prove the “broken window theory” and, indeed, when signs of deterioration began to appear it was unstoppable. In addition to filth, the accordions on the articulated buses are cracked, many of the windows are jammed, the sealing strips are missing and if not dealt with in time those strips that are loose will follow the path of the missing.

The agency buses, added a few years ago to ease the crisis, now pass up bus stops, already full, despite the desperate signals of their would-be passengers. How much do these buses cost their respective agencies to make only two daily trips which require a driver, gas and a mechanic. How much does it cost?

Private transport trucks supplement some of the shortcomings of public transport, but the solution is not to transport people in trucks, not to mention the price is several times higher, given that they offer a deficient service.

Private carriers should have the option of bank loans or other methods to acquire a bus 

The news report mentioned the lack of scruples of those who urinate in the buses, the graffiti “artists,” the rudeness of those who push to get on first, and even sadder, the lack of solidarity for older people or people with children. With summer vacation just ended, I have fresh images of parents who in the desire to give their children some distraction, traveled with their little ones to the beach or the zoo without other passengers offering them a seat. There are seats for the disabled, the pregnant and people with small children, clearly differentiated by their yellow color, but a great many people feel that if those seats are already occupied, too bad. Twice I have spoken up to demand a seat for women with babies, and failed.

The drivers, on more than a few occasions, are a part of the problem rather than the solution. As they are now required to pay out a sum of money before each trip, the informal fare collector has appeared who, on behalf of the driver, collects the fares and encourages the passengers to get on by the back door so as to stop as briefly as possible. The drivers are deaf to passenger complaints of excessive speed, sudden braking or the imposition of their own musical tastes; and I don’t even bother to ask them not to smoke. All this along with the previous paragraph gives an idea of how we travel and our values at the social level.

The idea of turning public transport into a cooperative has often been raised—a different way of trying to resolve some of the city’s oldest problems—but control remains in the hands of the Urban Bus Company.

Private carriers should have the option of bank loans or other methods to acquire a bus and let the trucks go back to carrying goods. These are not new ideas, they have proved their value in practice and have been aired in public forums, specialized meetings and in public opinions surveyed by the written press. There is no explanation for why, in the so-called updating of the country’s economic model, the “lack of haste*” hasn’t resulted in a viable alternative for easing the crisis in public transport.

This is perfectly captured in one of the most often heard phrases at the bus stops: Cleary the leaders don’t travel by bus!

*Translator’s note: From a phrase delivered in a speech by Raul Castro commenting that the update of the economic model would be accomplished “without pause, but without haste.”