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.

8 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?

  • My dear Daisy,

    Please think about what you say:

    “No one knows if this situation will improve… 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”

    “changes would not be so far off; if we were headed on the path to socialism”


  • Let me add too that, just in the one foto above, we can see there is an immediate need for comfortable benches at that particular busstop (and probably many others)… and most probably a need too for sun/wind/ran protection too — tho’ the trees are a nice touch already. AFAIC, if there was a grassroots-run local neighborhood community council here, this should be one of its concerns — and ongoing projects: the state of such facilities in its jurisdiction (and how these relate to the larger transportation system, etc., in conjunction with all other relevant levels of government).

  • Buses in North America can be exactly like you describe too; however, North America deals out blockades and economic warfare and subversion — it barely suffers them (yet). So there are generally more buses in north american (and certainly european) cities, and they are generally in better repair.

    Solve your economic crisis — and you solve most ALL the problems you people document here on Havana Times, daily.

  • Anyway, why a public transport system can be and should be essential:

    (1) it is easy to distribute the services of public transport for free to all citizens. However, I remember Fidel remarking in one of his memoirs that Che suggested to the Russians that they start charging a small fee for metro use; this makes sense. All people should get several free uses of public transit per day, then must pay. This is not a policy which is as easy or efficient to implement with automobiles, as socially beneficial, but on occasion economically draining gasoline subsidies have proven in Iran and Venezuela.

    (2) It is more environmentally efficient and cost effective

    (3) it gives the opportunity for using several strategies alongside each other and integrating them.

  • An effective public transit system is essential for any modern, socialist society to thrive (or modern, capitalist society to thrive for that matter! But here in the states or in Europe, it is less of an issue as everyone has a car, at least if you don’t mind congestion and global warming). It seems that Cuba is trying to reform a lot of 80s-era Russian infrastructure in a short term with little money, exacerbated by a crisis in the sugar sector, the global recession, numerous hurricanes and the slowness with which Cuban-American relations are improving.

    That said, it is more than possible for Cuba to improve its public transit in the here and now. Does Cuba have a subway? Does it need more buses? It still does need new cars. I think it can look for international help with this, perhaps from China.

Comments are closed.