By Regina Cano
The sign announced “good news,” assuring us that in a few short days the most-patronized bus route in my outlying neighborhood of Alamar would experience marked improvements.
This announcement appeared at a P-11 bus stop in the downtown Vedado district, the other end of the line. We would now also be served by the P-11A and P-11 Express buses. These routes would have stops along congruent journeys, and in the case of the Express, it would operate only during high-demand hours, with one shift beginning at 6:00 a.m. and the other at 2:00 p.m. Each shift would last approximately three hours, and the passenger’s wait at any stop would be between only 5 and 15 minutes.
Wow! This was a dream come true, because Alamar had become one of Havana’s symbols of poor transportation ever since the beginning of the economic crisis of the 1990s. Far from the city center, the neighborhood is made up of a huge population of which most people work outside the community.
With the change we would now receive a greater benefit than ever, one which would make the community jump with joy. I have to repeat that the transportation situation in Havana has been insane for a long time: first with the “Camels” (double-humped Mac truck-drawn rigs, also dubbed the “Infernal Metro-buses” by the Cuban rock group Zeus), foreign bus donations; and later with major transportation investments by the Cuban government, which have improved service considerably.
In this latest improvement the sprawling Alamar was included, receiving 70 shiny new articulated buses. That change was noticed, and some comments could be heard like, “God willing they’ll continue like this for a long time” (because they’re quick and comfortable). Nonetheless, there were also remarks like: “Don’t be naive folks, in a blink-of-an-eye they’re going to break down and there won’t be any parts.” Such comments often come from Radio Bemba*.
What I myself found was that I started waiting for longer periods at the bus stop, unable to explain what was going on. However, one day on a street near the first stop, I discovered a considerable number of P-11 buses parked in the terminal; one day I counted 16 buses, another day 20 and later, I stopped counting.
Shortly after, I found myself en route to my bus stop with an upset neighbor who commented about this. She concluded saying, “Do you know what people call this? – ‘Plan Macabre!’ “
They’ve labeled it that because the new transportation plan for this neighborhood created an express bus that skirts the neighborhood and reduced the number of the normal buses that many people have to catch. Also, the express buses have limited schedules and are parked the rest of the time.
Apparently someone in a high-level position came up with this strategy as a way to better transport large populations such as Alamar’s. But, as we always say, “That guy doesn’t catch a bus.” The official who came up with this big idea surely travels by car and manages from a desk. He made a decision about something he didn’t know about and will only act to address its consequences when-after another lengthy period of mass suffering-people finally begin to complain.
It’s incredible that so many screw ups have not left lessons in a country that hasn’t the luxury to waste time or fuel in this unusual way. Instead of solving a problem, they again transform it into a Möbius strip, circulating endlessly and only affecting the grassroots residents of a country that supposedly only produces benefits for its people.
* Radio Bemba (Radio Big Lips): a term used for rumors that circulate information not usually published in the official press.