Buses grind to halt in Venezuela cri­sis

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

CARA­CAS:

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

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