“It’s No One’s Fault”: A Bus Ride in Havana

Jorge Milanes Despaigne

Havana metro bus. Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES — When I got on the bus, I saw that the driver had his hand over the fare-box. Everyone who got on was paying him a peso.

“Driver, I don’t have any change,” said a woman who had just boarded the bus, wrestling past a crowd of people.

“If you don’t have the money to pay for the fare, get off. It’s not my fault you don’t have any change,” he said in a loud tone of voice.

 “It’s not my fault either,” the woman retorted.

Those of us who were standing near the fare-box saw that the driver’s hand would invariably pocket the fare. What dexterous hand that was!

Though bus fare is forty cents, it is next to impossible to get change for a Cuban peso anywhere (save in some “banks”), and people don’t have any choice but to pay the peso.

Years ago, there were people on the bus whose job was to charge you the fare – and they would give you change. They weren’t meeting the established revenue quotas, however, and the bus company decided to eliminate that mechanism (it seems those fellows also had that “hand problem”).

Finally, after the discussion blew over, we continued on our way, like sardines in a tin, down the streets of Havana. We got to the next stop.“Walk to the back of the bus, don’t crowd by the door,” the driver said several times and again placed his hand on the moneybox. Then, when no more people could be squeezed into the bus through the front door, he leaned forward and put out his hand.

“Come on, pay up here and get on through the back.”

He realized someone had got on through the back door without paying the fare.

“What about you, aren’t you going to pay?” he asked, looking at the man through the rear-view mirror.

“I don’t have any change. If I give you the money, you have to give me change, and you’ve got plenty of it. You look after your pocket and I look after mine.” The man took out a peso and said: “Excuse me, I’m coming through to put this in the fare-box.

The transportation situation is critical and isn’t improving. Things are as difficult as making a buck (though it seems some bus drivers are “handling” it rather well).

Jorge Milanes

Jorge Milanes: My name is Jorge Milanes Despaigne, and I’m a tourism promoter and public relations specialist. Forty-five years ago I was born in Cojimar, a small coastal town to the east of Havana. I very much enjoy trips and adventure; and now that I know a good bit about my own country, I’d like to learn more about other nations. I enjoy reading, singing, dancing, haute cuisine and talking with interesting people who offer wisdom and happiness.

One thought on ““It’s No One’s Fault”: A Bus Ride in Havana

  • I too, can remember the days when “conductors,” rather than drivers, took your fare and made change. Given the fact that the public transportation system is loosing as much $$$ via the “slight of hands” of the drivers, why not reinstate the “conductors?” Having taken the P-14 and the P-5 many times, I can sympathize with your plight. At least, as an estranjero, I had the option, when buses become too much of a hassle, of taking an “almendron.” One of my friends worked for the public transit authority. Her job was to take all the incoming complaint calls by bus passengers. Being a good, and concientious, person, her job became ever stressful. There was little she could do about all the complaints. Although she relayed these complaints, nothing was ever done to fix them. Finally, after years of working for the transit authority, she could take it no more. She suffered from high blood pressure, sleeplessness and anxiety. She now works in another, less stressful, job.

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