HAVANA TIMES, May 29 – The breaking down of a bus is one of the worst and not so infrequent things that can happen to those of us who depend on the Cuban public transportation system. That’s why it’s not only important that these vehicles be maintained, but also that we deposit our fares in the money box when we get on.
Many people don’t do this, which is something criticized on television and in the press. Clearly, if you receive a service, you should pay for it; it’s the right thing to do.
But what if you don’t receive that service?
Last Friday I arrived at the first stop of the P-6 bus in the Vedado area at 7 p.m. There was an inspector there distributing tickets to organize the line, which was good fortune that doesn’t happen every day. The first bus arrived and the people in front of me began getting on until it was full. I was left standing but I would be the first one on the following bus; plus, I would be able to get a seat.
However, my inner voice reminded me of a saying we have here: “The light in front is the one that lights the way.” So, since I didn’t know when the next bus would come, I got on and I fulfilled my civic duty by paying the fare.
Three stops later the bus broke down.
In such an instance, you would expect that they would return the bus fair or at least a ticket that would allow you a ride on the following bus without paying, since we had already paid. You would think that this would be especially true for those who got on exactly at the stop where the vehicle died. But it didn’t work that way, since the money box cannot be opened.
With the new system, there are no longer bus employees who collect the fares from the passengers and return them their change and a ticket (yes, the other interesting thing about this new system is that your change is not returned; if you have 40 cents (the cost of the fair) you’re OK, but if you have a peso [100 cents], another passenger will have to give you their 40 centavos and you will need to drop your peso in the box for both, but you still lose 20 centavos. The television and press implore us to pay the bus fare, but what happens with the change?). Another problem is that you do not get a transfer ticket if the bus breaks down; the driver doesn’t have transfers either.
A few months ago I was going by a community dining room and saw a poster that announced that they were giving people change, but that was only for retirees and the elderly who eat there. I thought that was a good idea to save on long lines at the banks; however, those who work don’t have time to stand in line for an hour at the bank.
But again, what happens when the bus breaks down? Who’s supposed to return our money to pay for the next bus? The best thing you can do is get on the following bus and try to explain to the driver that the previous one conked out, and that this was not your fault. But how is he supposed to know you were really riding on the bus that broke down?
On the letters to editor page on Friday’s in the Granma newspaper, someone proposed that tickets be sold at ticket stands, though this still doesn’t get at the need for transfer tickets. It’s important that people pay for their bus rides, and it’s even fair that they are fined if they don’t do that. But the first thing that the State should do is guarantee is that we can pay without losing money, especially if something happens to the bus that prevents us from completing out trip.
As you can see, the light in front is not always the one that lights the way.
So there I was, in the middle of a tumult of people desperate to get home and resolved to get on the first bus that appeared at any price. The bus that showed up was a P-6, the same one that I would have rode sitting down if I had waited at the first stop. It stopped a few blocks away to let off passengers, so everybody had to run to try to catch it. When I got to the door I had to endure the frantic pushing of people trying to get on.
Having to put up with this or not, I was almost thankful for being crushed, because at least it would guarantee my getting home (assuming this bus didn’t also break down). The only other thing I needed —on top of all this— was for the driver to have the nerve to demand my bus fare (their wages depend on them meeting a certain quota). I passed by the money box without dropping anything in and without trying to hide that fact; what’s more, I looked directly in the driver’s eyes hoping he’d say just one word. Fortunately, he didn’t.