Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Cuba’s Public Transport System: Adjustments are not Enough
July 4, 2013 | Print |
Fernando Ravsberg*

HAVANA TIMES — Fifty years of unsuccessful attempts at re-structuring
its public transportation into a system that works should suffice to
make Cuba consider changing the very foundations of the system. The
“reorganization” being proposed today promises to be more of the same
and is not likely to yield the quality services aimed for.

The last meeting held by Cuba’s Council of Ministers publicly recognized
that the country’s transportation system “has been unstable, inadequate
and low-quality for years.” The common Cuban who “hops on a bus” every
day has something similar to say, albeit with far less refined words.

“Updates” can help steer those sectors that actually work, such as
public health, education or sports, in the right direction. It can even
improve the tourism industry, which has seen much progress in the course
of the last 3 decades.

Cuba’s public transportation system, however, has always been bad and,
in recent years, has gone from bad to worse. Truth is, it wasn’t even
satisfactory in the days of Soviet aid, when there was plenty of money
and State subsidies to invest in it.

One of the many problems faced by the sector are the odd administrative
decisions of Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation, which purchases buses
from China but demands that they be equipped with U.S. engines, as
though oblivious to the economic embargo that has existed for over fifty

When the engine in one of those buses breaks down, Cuba has to buy it
from the United States. The purchase is conducted through a foreign
company and involves sending the product to a third country, where it is
re-shipped to Cuba. Prices naturally skyrocket and spare parts take a
long time to reach the island.

What’s more, a whole series of meetings between the commercial
departments of the Cuban import companies and Ministry experts are held
before the order is actually placed. There are committees that convene
to evaluate one, specific aspect of the product, which refer the matter
to other committees designed to review other product details, which in
turn call on a third committee…and this process goes on and on for months.

All the while, the broken bus idles at a State workshop where, many a
time, it is scavenged for pieces that can be sold in the black market.
When the Ministry finally decides to make a purchase, more spare parts
are needed and the whole, interminable process of committee meetings
begins anew.

In this way, Cuba’s Ministry of Transportation has at times managed to
keep half of Havana’s public buses out of circulation, a remarkable feat
when we recall that the country has purchased a large fleet of vehicles
from China.

Organizing a functioning public transportation system anywhere is,
admittedly, a complex task which requires experts, large investments and
continuous subsidies. Such efforts, however, are only successful when
the system, at base, actually works, be it in a wealthy or poor country.

Granting a large number of vehicle owners licenses to operate as private
cabs greatly improved Cuba’s public transportation situation, but the
government undertook this liberalization without establishing a standard
fare, the routes where these taxis must circulate and a maximum
frequency of operations, regulations which are currently being applied
in many countries around the world.

In the end, those who end up paying for the absence of official
regulations are the passengers, for cab drivers charge whatever they
feel like charging and circulate down the city’s busiest streets at the
time of day they deem convenient, leaving other areas of the city bereft
of viable transportation.

I also hear that the government will begin encouraging the use of
bicycles as a means of transportation people can use to move around the
city. Vice-President Murillo even said that authorities “will evaluate
the possibility of selling spare parts needed to maintain the bicycles
at subsidized prices.”

When I questioned the wisdom of removing bicycle lanes from Cuban
streets in this blog, I was accused of being hypercritical. Now, it
appears as though they will have to bring back these lanes, as selling
cheap bicycles won’t be enough – you also need to give cyclists a safe
space to move in.

Some people make fun of this proposal, as though the use of this means
of transportation were a sign of backwardness. In fact, many developed
nations promote the widespread use of bicycles and have an extensive
network of bike lanes. Some major cities, like Barcelona, even have an
efficient public bicycle rental system.

Cuba, a poor country, would benefit considerably from a strategy that
availed itself of its various resources, creating a transportation
system that could harmonize State, private, cooperative and even
individual initiative.

To get there, however, the many import companies and endless committees
that have been stepping on the brakes of the State must be removed, the
private sector must be organized more efficiently, the cooperative
sector expanded and inexpensive, individual alternatives which the
population can afford must be sought.

Everything depends on how priorities are established. With what the
government spends on only one of the thousands of vehicles it imports
for use by its companies and ministries, a dozen electrical motorcycles
or hundreds of good-quality bicycles could be purchased.

To buy a new bus, there’s no need to make an additional investment –
importing 10 less automobiles suffices. The government could begin by
suspending the practice of assigning vehicles to transportation
officials, so as to give them the opportunity to experience what their
less privileged compatriots endure (and think) on a daily basis.

Cuba’s economic progress should not be measured on the basis of the
number of automobiles in circulation around the country, the fact there
are more luxury cars on the street or we catch sight of a Hummer in
Havana from time to time.

True success in this area will be to guarantee that ordinary Cubans have
the means of transportation they need to get to work every day and take
their kids to the Zoo one weekend or other.
(*) An authorized HT translation of the original published in Spanish by
BBC Mundo.

Source: “Cuba’s transport system needs more than cosmetic changes” –

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