Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Public Transport in Cuba

I recently had the opportunity to visit the fascinating country of Cuba.  Whilst there I was informed by a tour guide of the solution the Cuban government have come up with to tackle the problem of providing public transport.

As you may already be aware Cuba is a socialist country, in fact judging from my own experiences it is by far the most socialist country I have ever visited (including China and Vietnam).  The government owns just about everything: it's part or whole-owner in all the hotels, about half of the cars we saw driving around were government owned (you can tell from the colour of the license plate), 85% of the farmland, all of the shops and most residential property lies in the government's hands.

As a foreigner you're not allowed to buy property in the country, you can only lease it from the government.  Prices in shops are set by the government so are the same everywhere (our rep pointed out that even though there is a 'duty free' shop at the airport this is essentially a joke as the prices are no different to anywhere else) - the only exception to this are flea markets.  Locals are only allowed to buy a private car from government-run car dealerships; the type of car they are permitted to buy is dictated by how much they have paid to the government in taxes.

Many locals therefore, drive government-owned cars and/or rely on public transport.  The solution the government have come up with to provide it's citizens with public transport is to introduce a simple law which is essentially this:

If you are driving a government vehicle (i.e. one with blue license plates) and you have space for additional passengers you must stop to pick up hitch-hikers.

They enforce this by having government officials man hitch-hiking posts (which operate like bus stops) and flagging down vehicles with blue license plates to check if they can accommodate the hitch-hikers.

I wouldn't dream of hitch-hiking or picking up a hitch-hiker in this country, but I've been assured that it's an incredibly common and safe practice in Cuba.

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