Collecting Funds for the P-2 Bus

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Havana transportation. Photo: Caridad

Normally if I get on a guagua (what we call buses here in Cuba), it’s an Indiana Jones adventure, and lately it’s become more exciting still.

The time between one bus and another can extend for more than a half hour.  And when they finally do show up, there are two, three or four all together, making the wait exasperating, because then everybody wants to rush get a seat.

I believe that I’ve already written about this in other diary entries, however what’s new this time is what hasn’t been said officially.  Nonetheless, it has traveled from mouth to mouth, like all Cuban news, and at some moment (the most gullible will see what I’m talking about) it will become etched in stone.

The gossip mongers say that the public transportation system is about to be converted into a cooperative.

Hmm!  What will people use to accomplish this?  What services will they provide to keep the children of our children indebted?  Yes, because no one has any money here, nor a bus parked outside their house waiting for the good news.

But anyway, I’m going to talk about what happened to me this week.

I climbed up in a P-2 (the number assigned to the bus route), and in addition to getting hit on the ankle by the door that was almost hanging off, the driver began yelling at me for the fare.

Up to this point there was nothing new.  It’s normal for the drivers to demand payment, because since they installed money boxes to collect the $.40 cent fare, without the possibility of getting change for a whole peso, people started to just pay whenever they could.

But this time the driver’s demands were different.  He stood up beside his seat and requested that we please pay (like a street musician in a train station or on a downtown corner) because the Cotorro Municipal Bus Depot had given the drivers a “vote of confidence.”  If they didn’t collect enough money, the bus system would bid them a fond farewell.

True or not, the driver used that as the excuse —instead of the real reasons— to solicit money from the passengers.  But if the public transportation system itself is broke, what do they expect of the passengers.

So, everything seems to indicate that this will always be the same thing.  They give an order and the others try to comply with it without applying the slightest bit of logic.

In the end, some people sympathized with the appeal of the driver and they passed him a little change.  Others decided not to give in since it seemed like such an unlikely story.

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Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

Maria Matienzo has 102 posts and counting. See all posts by Maria Matienzo

2 thoughts on “Collecting Funds for the P-2 Bus

  • Bus (public transport) issue is just one aspect of the society. There ain’t many countries with special difficulties as the ones in Cuba. One country came to mind: China.
    (I am a Chinese). Some twenty years ago, public transportation in China was bad, maybe not as bad as in Cuba. (never took a bus in Cuba, didn’t want to either). And now there are places in China (Beijing, Shanghai for example) with one of the largest and best public transport systems in the world. And they are still building. When I told my friends in Beijing that in the past twenty years, Toronto built a subway extension of 8 km with 4 stops. They just laughed. Beijing probably will do it in a month. But that’s a different story.
    Technology is not the problem (You don’t need to invent or pick the best method, monorail or what not). Privatization or semi privatization (cooperative) is not the solution, it will not work. Some privatization in alternative methods, such as private taxi.. should be encouraged to serve different needs. But that wont’ solve the problem either. Good public transit system requires a strong economy, pure and simple. It will take maybe a decade for Cuba to see real improvement (that’s assuming the reform is happening today, and the economy takes off at China’s speed). By then, Cubans might not want to use buses anymore, they will all be able to afford cars. (hint: China has replaced the US as the world largest auto market and GM is selling more cars in China than it does in the US, all at the same time, China is building large public transport system).
    All I am saying is that there are many challenges in Cuba, and bus is probably the one most talked about. It cannot be solved on itself by itself. The solution: try to find ways so you can afford cars, the government will then give you better buses.

  • Any metaphor I can think of fails to convey the experience of riding on the guaguas of Habana! (During my recent visit to Habana, I regularly rode both the P-14 and the P-15 from San Augustin into the Vedado, Centro or Vieja.) It is like being a sardine in a sardine can, except that before they close the can they try to cram in more-and-more sardines into it, then try to mash them all up in the can so they can fit even more! To actually have to pay for this experience is roughly equivalent of paying a dominatrix to whip you, or walk all over you with spiked high-heel boots! As you can imagine, by the time you get to where you are going you are in an ill humor and, in October (when I was there) like entering a sauna or steam-bath for an hour or more! Of course, if you live anywhere near the terminus, in order to get a seat you walk–or take a bus in the opposite direction–to the terminal where the buses turn around. At Parque de Fraternidad and/or other downtown locations, however, this was not possible–unless, of course, you have a special pass!
    My solution to this problem? Short of investing in a monorail system (like the one that goes between West Palm Beach and Homestead, in South Florida)–and Cuba is broke and doesn’t have the resourses to build one–why not open it up to more (and private) camiones (passenger trucks), collectivos/machinas, and vans, like elsewhere in the Third World? This would provide much needed, SOCIALLY USEFUL, private employment for many of the 600,000 Cubans soon to be laid off.

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