Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Cuban Bus Fares Go Astray

Drivers have informal “conductors” to collect cash to supplement their wages.
By Miriam Herrera Calvo
  • A Havana bus. (Photo: Paul Arps/Flickr/CC license)
    A Havana bus. (Photo: Paul Arps/Flickr/CC license)

"Shameless thieves!" Adís shouted at the Havana bus driver and his companion collecting money from passengers. "Not in your pockets. That isn’t allowed."

Adís was angry because she suspected the cash was being siphoned off by the “conductor” to share with the driver. Fare collection was abolished in Cuba in 2007, and since then passengers have dropped the money into boxes located next to the bus doors.

When Adís warned Enrique, the collector, that she was going to report him to the provincial transport authority, he replied, “Move up there, you crazy old woman – lift your feet.”

Enrique told this reporter he was doing nothing wrong and was simply helping out. No one else was complaining, he added.

“All this fuss over 40 cents,” he said. “I’m doing it to help the driver. Headquarters doesn’t employ me, but I help out to make sure everyone pays. I put the money in the box afterwards, at the end of the route."

Bus driver Armando said this was the first time Enrique had ever collected money, and added, “I hope this dispute doesn't go any further. My assistant made a mistake."

The fare scam is common practice on Cuban buses.

"Drivers know they’re banned from handling cash. They are just looking for… a few extra pesos,” said Carlos, who works as an inspector to ensure the bus service is run properly.

As for the argument that the informal fare collectors help prevent fare-dodgers, Carlos said, “It's true that many people don't pay for the bus, but there are more who’d pay double without an argument."

The issue has been highlighted in state media like the newspaper Granma. But as Havana resident Orestes pointed out, "It’s reported on television, on the radio and in newspapers but no one is doing anything to solve the problem. It’s as if civil servants in the transport system were benefiting – money does work miracles."

Public transport workers who commit misdemeanours can have their pay docked or face dismissal.

The average monthly wage for drivers is 480 pesos (around 20 US dollars). But their pay level depends on them making the prescribed number of trips and bringing in enough money from enough passengers. So they need to spend money to keep their vehicles on the road. To this end, they pay illegal “incentives” to mechanics, cleaners, electricians, tyre-fitters and other staff to get them to do their jobs. It is little wonder they try to make a bit of money on the side.

After her run-in with the bus crew, Adís remained unsympathetic.  As she got off, who took out her mobile phone and photographed Armando and Enrique.

"I’ll be seeing you at the provincial transport authority," she warned them.

Miriam Herrera Calvo is an independent Cuban journalist living in Havana.

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