Transport in Cuba
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June 2013
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Cuba’s Astro Buses, Quite an Experience

Cuba’s Astro Buses, Quite an Experience
June 4, 2013
Dariela Aquique

HAVANA TIMES — Cuba’s public transportation system – arguably close to
the top of that long list of things that work badly or do not work at
all in the country – is one of our pending public discussions.

If public transportation within city limits is “terrible”, we would need
a particularly harsh adjective, something along the lines of
“disastrous”, to capture the experience of those longer journeys, known
as “interprovincial trips”, which Cuba’s coach company Astro has been
offering for a number of years now.

The company had justified its ticket prices, quite high for Cubans
living on measly State salaries, through promotional references to the
excellence of its services, which included movie screenings,
air-conditioning, a drinking fountain and bathroom, and guaranteed
punctual departures and arrivals and…well, “a comfortable journey”
through and through.

But Cubans have long ceased to enjoy such “benefits” in these journeys.
With the exception of air-conditioning, no other on-board service
continues to be offered. The bathrooms have all been locked up, the DVD
players have stopped working, the drinking fountains are broken and
departures and arrivals are fairly off schedule.

This makes for a rather uncomfortable situation, if we bear in mind that
an interprovincial trip of this nature (from Santiago de Cuba to Havana,
for instance), can last around 13 or 14 hours – or perhaps 18, even 20,
if the bus suffers any kind of mishap. The cost of the tickets, however,
remains the same.

My recent return trip to Havana was made possible by an Astro bus. I
chose this means of transportation, first of all, because it was cheaper
than flying (where you can also meet with all sorts of accidents) and,
second of all, because it is supposedly faster than the train (which is
also a real mess).

Beyond the discomfort caused by the fact most of the things on the bus
aren’t working, my trip over was uneventful. This was simply too good to
be true and, on the way back, my co-travellers and I suffered the
calamity that was in store for us all along.

A mere 10 kilometers from Havana, one of bus’ rear tires burst. The
driver immediately turned off the AC, claiming he could not use up the
fuel to keep the bus cool while we waited. Luckily, we were near a
bridge. We all got off the bus and went under the bridge, to shield
ourselves from the sun.

dari3On more than one occasion, we had to lend one of our mobile phones
to the driver so he could call the bus terminal, because, according to
him, he had no means of his own to do so. We waited for the repair crew
from 1 until 5:30 in the afternoon.

They changed the tire begrudgingly and without the slightest haste,
telling us there were no backup buses we could be transferred to. When
we finally managed to get out of that place, we were all exhausted and
starving, and some had urgent physiological needs to attend to.

Someone asked the driver if the “disturbance” entailed any kind of
partial reimbursement of the price of the ticket, to which the driver
somewhat sarcastically replied: “we were still in Cuba, last time I

That’s the way the cookie crumbles: always the same, never different.
“We’re in Cuba”, this is the reply you get whenever you complain about
something that doesn’t work. Here are some pictures for you to see, to
get a sense of my atrocious journey on an Astro bus.

Tags: bus, public transportation, train

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