The tolerance towards those who operated as private carriers without a license had lasted too long. For two years this was the best known and broadest flexibility of Raúl Castro’s government, though the foreign press paid more attention to permission to buy a computer, open a cell phone account, rent a hotel room, or receive a grant in usufruct for a piece of land for ten years. The permissiveness for the drivers impacted our daily lives more than these new services available only in convertible money or the collapsing agrarian reform.
Last Friday the streets of my city awoke with few colectivos—shared taxis—because the new regulations require them to have a license. I understand that economic activities have charges and inspections that regulate them, but I fear that this measure will reduce the mobility of thousands of people. I’m not talking about an elite that can pay ten Cuban pesos—a day’s salary—to go from Central Havana to the municipality of Playa, because these old cars move people of all social classes From the student who has to be on time to classes, to the retiree who goes to visit his grandchildren in Mantilla, to the musician who gives a concert in a nightclub.
These “almendrones” exhibit qualities public transportation lacks: reliability, frequency and good access to all areas of the country. These ramshackle cars have witnessed successive plans to rehabilitate the state-owned buses and have also watched these momentary patches come apart at the seams. They have the merit of having resisted the strict controls, the obligatory “bite” to pay off the cops, the restrictions on buying spare parts, and the high price of fuel. Despite all of that, these oval vehicles keep their hard shells rolling through the city. We hope their stubborn frames will be shockproof against these new constraints.