Privatized? / Regina Coyula

Regina Coyula, 6 May 2015 — I have noticed that the old-time “conductor” has recently made a comeback on city buses (though the person driving them is still called the driver). Rather than using the fare box, passengers must now pay the conductor instead. Being the curious type, I got into a conversation with one of them and found out a few things that our informative newspaper Granma has not mentioned.

According to the conductor — the driver also joined in on the conversation — the buses are in essence leased to the workers, who are responsible for maintenance and repairs. However, the Chinese manufacturer will not ship spare parts because the state has not paid its bills. If anything breaks, fare receipts drop, so the bus company deals with it by unofficially passing the problem on to the drivers. Since the driver has his hands full, a co-worker — a driver himself — is there to make sure every passenger pays the requisite fare.

The workers must set aside a certain portion of their share of the receipts for bus maintenance, a percentage much lower that what the company gets, which amounts to more than half the receipts according to my source. And that is not his only complaint.

“Newspaper articles only talk about the things people complain about, but no one talks about what we are going through,” he says.

There is music in the background as we talk. Music can be heard on every bus these days, typically whatever a driver happens to like. On this particular day it happens to be love songs.

“I like timba and some reggaeton but this music relaxes me,” says the driver. “If I have problems now, can you imagine what it would be like if I played the other?”