Buses grind to halt in Venezuela crisis
All William Faneite needed to keep driving his old bus in Caracas was a new carburetor. Surely, in a city of two million people, that couldn’t be hard to find? But getting his hands on a spare took four months - par for the course in an economic crisis that has seen one in two public buses in Venezuela grind to a halt. Filling a bus’s tank with petrol in oil-rich Venezuela is super-cheap. But getting the parts to run it these days is an ordeal.
In Faneite’s case, it meant four months without work for the 51-year-old father of four. Rampant inflation has driven up the price of tires, batteries and carburetors. “We couldn’t get hold of a spare. We had to spend four months looking around,” he told AFP. When he did find one, “it was super expensive.” The bus’s owner leases the vehicle, a battered old blue 1987 model, to him and he earns a commission based on the number of passengers.
Luckily for Faneite, the owner paid the bill for the repair. Now Faneite is back at the wheel, anxiously wondering when the bus will break down again. Dozens of buses and minibus-style public vehicles stand abandoned and rusting in wastelands. “Fifty percent of the fleet is out of action across the whole country,” or about 100,000 vehicles, said Erick Zuleta, president of the National Transport Federation. “And the situation is getting worse.”
Oil and Gas
Falling prices for its crucial oil exports have left Venezuela short of dollars to import supplies. The government’s special low fixed exchange rate is meant to help Venezuelans afford essential goods, such as tires and engine oil. But there just aren’t enough to go round. Drivers have to buy spares on the black market, where they cost five times the official price. The price of a bus ticket meanwhile recently rose to the equivalent of about 10 US cents at the official rate.
That seems like little, but in Venezuela’s lopsided monetary situation nothing is as simple as it looks. Driving his routes in eastern Caracas, Faneite earns about 5,000 bolivars a day. That gives him nearly eight dollars of spending power at the official fixed exchange rate. But it is worth little more than one dollar on the black market, where Venezuelans are forced to buy much of what they need to live. If Faneite wants to buy lunch, it eats up half of his daily earnings. “It is impossible to operate with the current prices,” says bus drivers’ union leader Hugo Ocando. He spoke standing in a yard where a handful of mechanics toiled trying to repair about 20 brokendown buses.
Waiting for the bus
Used to queuing for rations of food and medicine, Venezuelans also form long lines to catch one of the dwindling numbers of buses. Victor Rojas, 25, crosses the city from west to east to get to his job at a cinema. “You waste a lot of time waiting for the minibus to come,” he said. “And when you do get on, it is falling to pieces.” Those who have to travel from town to town often see their trip turn into an Odyssey as the few buses available make detours to cover extra routes.
Ginette Arellano, 42, sits on the bus with her son for up to nine hours to get to Caracas from her hometown of Barquisimeto, about 350 km away. On top of that, public buses are prey to violence in one of the world’s most dangerous cities. Driver Faneite says he has been the victim of three armed robberies. Socialist President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to pull Venezuelans out of an economic crisis which he says is a capitalist conspiracy. Maduro, 54, is a former bus driver. —AFP
CARACAS: This photo taken on Oct 13, 2016 shows abandoned buses in a public bus parking in the Catia neighborhood of the Venezuelan capital. —AFP