Standing in Havana’s “Lines of Conscience”

Regina Cano

Havana workplace bus that sometimes picks up other passengers.  Photo:
Havana workplace bus that sometimes picks up other passengers. Photo:

HAVANA TIMES — Every day, as 5 pm draws near, Havana’s well-known Parque Central sees a crowd of people standing in what many working people (desirous of getting home quickly after leaving work) refer to as the “line of conscience.” Those standing in this line are offered a lift on the buses destined to the workers of certain workplaces, buses that have available seats and can take other passengers headed towards east-laying neighborhoods located beyond the Havana Bay Tunnel.

This line of people has its precursor in a queue that formed for years right at the entrance to the tunnel, a practice that first emerged when the harshness of the economic crisis of the 1990s irreversibly changed our perceptions (for better and for worse). The practice, in turn, stemmed from the habit of asking drivers for a lift at the last stop-light before crossing the tunnel to the other side of the street, a habit that still remains.

This crisis was what moved the “conscience” of some drivers (or their bosses and/or some of the workers who used the buses, which drove past people who didn’t know when they would make it home, practically empty).

Currently, many people who work (and many who do not) – residents of the large outlying neighborhood of Alamar and others close to these informal bus stops, – can be seen waiting in line on weekdays. They wait with the patience demanded by the circumstances, for, though some drivers always stop there, others assess the crowd and, fearing a disorderly boarding process which would give their already ill-maintained vehicles a beating, simply speed away.

Other drivers, unmoved by people’s transportation sorrows, leave those standing in line behind, with the anxiety of people who can never be certain one of those buses will offer them a lift to their destination. Despite a number of intermittent improvements, that is always a critical time of day.

The people standing in line there still manage to maintain hope and generally do manage to catch a lift back home in a relatively short period of time.

Thus, and despite the fact that some of these vehicles tend to spew their exhaust fumes towards the passengers rather than away from them, that the buses get as packed as regular public transportation (which one often has to run after to catch), that some barely have any seats left in them and that drivers do as they please and have a violent attitude against people trying to board, people still wait in line for them.

The travelers in the “line of conscience” tirelessly wait for the buses and seem genuinely happy to be able to head back home in them, not caring that the workplace buses are in a deplorable state.

And so, among comments such as “god spare me from public transportation” and “let’s hope this lasts”, they continue to wait in line every day.

2 thoughts on “Standing in Havana’s “Lines of Conscience”

  • I agree. A nation that confiscated autos should have provided busses. A nation that confiscated homes should have provided housing. A nation that confiscated schools should have provided the resources to think freely without punishment. A nation that confiscated wealth and dissolved unions should have provided its people with a decent living wage. This is the failed “revolution” of the Castro oligarchy after 56 years of absolute power. I wonder how different the lives are of the poor of 2015 from those of the poor of 1959.

  • My impression is that, in the countryside, too, dozens of people wait for ages in the hope of a public bus to their destination. But I’ve seen crowds that would far exceed the number of available places when a bus did eventually turn up. A half decent public transport system, one would have thought, would have been among the first priorities of any socialist state

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