Better Public Transportation Is Possible

Daisy Valera

Havana Articulated Bus.

I’d like to say the problem was solved, that the comical and modern articulated Chinese buses improved the situation of transportation in Cuba.

I’d like to say that I can see the digital clock with red figures at the entrance of the bus because no one is standing in front of me.

Truly, one of my greatest dreams is to at least be able to sit down a few times in those beautiful blue or yellow plastic seats.

However, I can’t say anything even approaching that.  Transportation remains practically in the same precarious situation as in the stage before the Yutong buses came in the last few years.

Havana workers get up every morning and face our dear “camels” (the popular term given to the national buses).

Running behind the bus is indispensable if you want to avoid being left behind at bus stops for all eternity.  However, it’s not only running, it’s also pushing everyone who’s are around you, and yelling at the person in the doorway who prevents you from getting on – it doesn’t matter if it’s a senior citizen, a pregnant woman or a child.

The situations at bus stops are almost those of life or death.  The lines never get any shorter, in fact it seems like they lengthen as the days go by.

But the problem of our “camels” doesn’t end here.  It’s not enough to have gotten on the bus; inside these vehicles the violence is such that you end up regretting having made it aboard.

If you need to catch a bus in Havana, you have to learn how to appreciate the perspiration of your traveling companions, as well as the odors of all types of people.

To get on a bus is to expose yourself to practically not being able to breathe, with the mass of people crushing you; a bus ride means having to suffer the faces of bitterness, fatigue, dissent, boredom and so many others.

I put on the expression of not being on the bus.  I imagine I’m in another place.  I maintain my look fixed on some point and try not to be susceptible to the bad moods and violence that are generated within the picturesque camels (I say “picturesque” because we have camels in different colors; they range from yellow to pink, though the colors don’t remedy the displeasure).

It’s a fact that transportation has improved since the darkest times of our “Special Period” crisis that began in the 90s; however, one cannot say that the situation has radically changed.

Many workers must go through the daily hassle implied by having to take different buses to get around in the city.  No one knows if this situation will improve, everyone supposes that it’ll continue to always be this way.

I look at this situation differently, knowing that solutions and other changes would not be so far off;  if we were headed on the path to socialism.  Perhaps other people accompanying me on such an unpleasant journey through the city do not share that hope since their suffering is double; that’s the product of having to endure the immediate situation while lacking the long term dream that a better future is possible.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

10 thoughts on “Better Public Transportation Is Possible

  • Socialism is a good thing my friend. People don’t understand the true meaning of the world “socialism”, because they are mixing it with “communism”, and there is a huge difference between these two words. I’m not even sure If Cuba took socialism…I think they took something else, and we all know that EMBARGO is destroying them badly!

  • I took a week long vacation in Cuba. It is a such beautiful country. But the public transportation really bothered me. (I didn’t personally took one) I felt really uncomfortable watching pretty girls, all dressed up, under colorful umbrella, hitchhiking. In that kind of temperature? Of course the tour bus did not stop for them, I can certainly see the disappointed look on their faces. Every tour guide, had to explain to us how hitchhiking has become a national sport in Cuba. Each time I saw a Yutong bus, I was really happy and proud, as if I did something for the people there (I am Chinese).

    Let’s not talk about “ism”. I am pretty sure it has little to do with that. But I do remember in the 80s, when China was just opening up, private buses were permitted to supplement public transportation. They were more expensive, 3 or 4 times more. All were small vans, cleaner and air conditioned. They were everywhere. They would travel faster, with fewer stops, catering to people who live farther from downtown core, and wouldn’t mind paying more so they can get home sooner. I am not sure whether these private buses are still in operation anymore. Public transportation in China has improved so much that they no longer have the niche market. (A case of public transport out competes private buses, or may be just the public transport just got better funding.)

    I don’t know why I write this. Borne and raised in China, I found there are so many public policies, measures in Cuba are similar, if not identical, to the ones used in China years ago. I almost felt the urge to say: “I know a way out”. I guess I am older now, so I didn’t.

    I had a conversation with a tour guide. I told and warned him about the hardship the Chinese suffered in the early years of “market economy”. He said, “now they are rich, and that’s what counts.”

    “That’s what counts?” Really?

  • Daisy, do you have a response?

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