Cuba letting drivers rent buses, make money
Rosa Tania Valdes
Mon May 17, 2010 2:20pm BST
HAVANA (Reuters) – The Cuban government has begun renting its smaller
city buses in Havana to the bus drivers in another minor move under
President Raul Castro to ease the state's hand in Cuba's socialist economy.
The program, launched several months ago and still not announced by the
government, appears to be part of Castro's drive to improve the
communist island's troubled economy by giving more incentive for Cubans
to work harder.
"They rented us the guaguas (buses). The (state) guarantees gasoline, we
pay daily taxes and what is left is for us," said a driver this week
while passengers filled the 16 seats of his Chinese-made Yutong bus in a
Improving public transportation is one of the major challenges facing
Raul Castro, who replaced ailing older brother Fidel Castro as president
two years ago.
Few people in Cuba own cars and the public transit systems they depend
on are notoriously insufficient.
The smaller buses are used in Havana to connect the city center with the
The government has fixed ticket prices at five Cuban pesos, equal to 22
cents U.S. And it provides fuel and the bus in exchange for a daily
payment from the drivers of 824 pesos, or the equivalent of $37 U.S.
The drivers keep anything they make above that amount, and so far they
say they are earning more than the average Cuban salary of about $20 a
"You have to work hard to make money, but it gives results," said
The new system appears to be benefiting passengers, who say buses are
coming much more frequently and on a timely basis than in the past.
ONLY THE BEGINNING
Drivers say they hope and believe the program will be extended to more
routes and other cities.
"This is only the beginning. The state is going to loosen things little
by little. They can't do everything, and they are seeing if this system
gives results," said one driver as he made a turn in his small beige bus.
Similar steps have been taken recently with taxis, some of which are now
being rented to drivers, and with small barber shops and beauty salons.
In both cases, the employees pay rent and a portion of their earnings to
the state, and pocket the rest.
Cuba abolished private property after Fidel Castro took power in the
1959 Cuban revolution, and it is one of the last countries with a Soviet
Union-style economy almost entirely in state hands.
In the past, Cuban authorities have rejected the notion of following in
the footsteps of countries like China or Vietnam, where the Communist
Party retained political control but liberalized the economy.
But in recent months, Cuba's heavily controlled state-run press has
published opinions from readers who favor putting more of the economy in
private hands, in what some view as the start of a government campaign
clearing the way for change.
"They are preparing the people," said a manager at a state-owned
business. "The people need to digest little by little these measures."
But others complain that the government needs to move more quickly,
which many expected when Raul Castro took office.
The 78-year-old general began his administration with a flurry of small,
but symbolic changes such as allowing the purchase of cell phones and
computers and permitting Cubans to go to hotels and restaurants
previously open only to foreigners.
Since then, change has come much more slowly, which Castro has blamed on
his not wanting to make mistakes that could endanger Cuban socialism
when his generation is gone.
(Editing by Jeff Franks and Doina Chiacu)