Naty Gabriela Gonzalez
HAVANA TIMES — I get on a bus and see people run and cling to the open door, trying to keep their heels from being mangled. I see a mother hoist her kid onto her shoulder and grab hold of another passenger’s waist, struggling to hold on to his neighbor with calloused hands. I get to the door and it closes behind me. We all look at each other, repeating the tired phrase of: “It ain’t easy.”
I politely try to squeeze past the crowd and they yell at me, saying there’s no room – that, if I want to get through, I have to jump over them. Someone asks me to let them through and I say nothing. We do this and shove each other around. The driver shuts the back doors and leaves a woman in the middle of the road, who yells, drops her purse and sees the discouraging spectacle of the other passengers, thronging together and going who knows where. Why do I keep quiet? Why don’t I snap back? Why do we shove each other around?
This is not a diary entry, this is a passage of the story that repeats itself every day at the bus stop, when one returns home, when one goes to work, when one goes to university. Many are the debates that Cuba’s public transportation has generated since the Special Period crisis, when it was at its worst (early/mid 1990’s), and following the purchase of Yutong-brand buses from China some years back, which improved the situation considerably for a while.
Five or six years after these buses came into the circulation in the Cuban capital, the situation of public transportation is once again one of the main social issues we have to address and improve, for the benefit of the society – particularly those who do not have 10 pesos to pay a maquina, as people call the Chevrolets and other vintage American cars (from the 1950s or so) that operate as collective cabs with set routes.
Two years ago, to alleviate the transportation situation some transportation cooperatives were set up. These operate small, yellow buses that only carry seated passengers for 5 Cuban pesos. Despite this alternative, we continue to see the same crowded public transportation vehicles, bus stops are still overflowing with people, the waiting time between buses is longer and longer, people arrive late at work, school and for appointments, and other similar situations continue to arise.
All of us have become victims of the stress this creates, in a situation where the bus driver or the person who does not move (because there’s supposedly no more room left in the bus) become scape goats. We look at each other with hatred for taking up a small space in the bus.
I don’t understand why the Ministry of Transportation does not fix the buses that are out of circulation to make more units available to the public and improve transportation some.
Another solution would be to encourage the founding of transportation cooperatives and to create private transportation routes, where public transportation companies can operate, offering services with a fleet of smaller vehicles or buses.
These small transportation cooperatives could pay taxes, which would constitute another source of revenue for the State and, more than help, provide a real break for the Cuban people.
The proposal has been made. The Ministry of Transportation can clear the way for this and keep the Holy Bureaucracy from cursing us, creating alternative, small and mid-sized transportation companies, the SMEs that have yielded so many positive results in Latin America. It could even arrange agreements between private contractors and the State, in the event it doesn’t want to fully privatize transportation. What it cannot afford to do is to continue to maintain a situation which a friend of mine describes as “the hours of national despair.”