I’m standing by one of the doors, four stations from my destination. It’s 4:16 p.m. on a Wednesday, and the subway is filling with people heading home for the evening. Everyone ignores the guy touting his Bs.100 candies in the middle of the car, even as he squeezes through the packed bodies.

Mira, caramelos de fruta, de menta, de coco, a 100 bolívares,” he marches, reciting this phrase with monochrome precision. Sometimes he adds a “mi gente” in an attempt to connect with potential customers.

And he’s not alone. Both hawkers and beggars have become much more common sights.

In fact, this weekend I saw three people selling various goods along with four beggars, in the same wagon, at the same time. Nothing stops them from cruising the trains selling trinkets or just straight-up begging. Not even rush hour.

Nevertheless, the subway is still relatively functional and clean. Escalators are broken in nearly every station, but trains arrive regularly, albeit with technical issues along the rails. I make the four-station trip from La California to Altamira in about fifteen minutes.

Besides, hawkers are not unique El Metro; they’ve been getting into buses for decades, and they’ve always been the least of anyone’s concerns when travelling in Caracas. Public transportation in the capital has been a serious issue for years, but now the state of affairs is nearing outright breakdown.

A complete shutdown of public transport would push the crisis down the sinkhole for millions of citizens.

Some places in the capital have always been difficult to get to, because there aren’t many buses covering the route, or because of the route itself (especially in the slums). Now, the deteriorating situation is spreading to surrounding cities. It doesn’t matter where you are or your destination, it’s always hard to get a bus.

That’s because fewer and fewer are roadworthy. Government-imposed controls have put a chokehold on every industry and service, crippling imports and causing shortages of everything that keeps a bus on the road: spare parts, tires, engine oil, everything. Inflation has done the rest, guaranteeing prohibitive prices for everything in stock.

In an interview with César Miguel Rondón last week, Hugo Ocando, head of the Association of Drivers of Western Caracas, said that 75% of their vehicles are out of order. The State-imposed bus fare is Bs. 280 (about $0.07 at Dicom rate), but even though people are finding it harder to pay for the ride and many drivers are charging whatever they want, the amount is actually way below what drivers need to cover the maintenance, which they must purchase at black market rates.

Ocando said that no change in bus fare will solve the issue, since people won’t be able to pay and inflation devours any adjustment. He also said that, according to their estimates, if this goes on, they’ll have to stop working entirely in three months.

“We work tirelessly to get people to their homes in the slums, to their jobs, to the subway, to their schools… The subway can’t take everyone, and it won’t go into the slums.”

This is a dire prospect. With all the issues Venezuelans face everyday, a complete shutdown of public transport would push the crisis down the sinkhole for millions of citizens.

No change in bus fare will solve the issue, since people won’t be able to pay and inflation devours any adjustment.

I live in Guarenas, a suburb to the east of Caracas. Most of the people here work or study in the capital. They have to make the trip back and forth every day of the week; some of us on weekends too. Years ago, the government started building what was supposed to be an expansion of the subway to reach Guarenas, but they never delivered. Therefore, folks still use anarchic buses to move between cities.

The buses I use charge Bs.1,600 per ride during weekdays, and Bs. 1,800 on weekends. If I had to go to Caracas every day, I’d have to pay Bs. 78,400 each month, all in cash, which is really hard to obtain these days. That’s a 57% chunk off the current minimum wage (Bs. 136,544), and that’s disregarding any extra buses a person might need to get to their jobs or homes, or the time wasted while waiting a ride. Back in 2014, I spent an average of five hours a day just standing in line.

All things considered, Guarenas is fine compared to other places. People who live in Valles del Tuy or Guatire must get up at 3 a.m. to arrive in Caracas before 7 a.m., and leave their jobs at 5 p.m. with little hope of getting home before 8 p.m. I’d rather not know what they have to pay monthly.

Soon it won’t matter. Not where we live, nor hawkers, nor failing roads. None of us will get anywhere when there are no buses in the Caracas metro area. While there are other means of transportation, like cabs, shared por puesto cars, or the Metrobús system, they will never be sufficient to satisfy demand.

The economic and social implications of such a scenario are too catastrophic for me to fathom.

44 COMMENTS

  1. He also said that, according to their estimates, if this goes on, they’ll have to stop working entirely in three months.
    ———

    Doesn’t seem like there’s any immediate fix to this problem. Once the masses are paralyzed, unable to move or get to work, the dystopia will be nearly complete. Can this really keep going on, straight into the shitter? Tiz a puzzlement. And f#$%ing sad to watch.

    • Or the people from the shanty towns will finally realize they have been duped and come down the hills destroying everything on their path (another Caracazo but this time a spontaneous one).

        • LMFAO, you Must be joking right?! Why would you say that? Have you seen it work in the past? Have there ever been millions upon millions in Venezuelan streets EVER? Your ignorance makes my fucking blood boil.

          • Street protests did in four months much more than “wetting the pinky and waiting quietly at home for the next election” has dreamed to achieve in the last 18 years.

            So go, go, vote again, and again, SEND THE PEOPLE BACK HOME AFTER THE FRAUD HAS BEEN DONE.

  2. I really enjoyed this, in an educational way.

    “Time is money,” and this article highlighted how this ONE aspect of the mass transit problem…how long people have to wait to get from Point A to Point B…damages the larger picture.

    But I got one problem:

    “Therefore, folks still use anarchic buses to move between cities.”

    “ANARCHIC!?”

    That word is wrong on every level.

    • Buses rarely respect stops, they pick up and leave passengers wherever they want. Most drivers here disregard speed limits, their cars are in deplorable condition which means many of them lack headlights or taillights. And of course, many drivers here charge whatever they want for their service.

      “Anarchic” is a perfect word, but in order to know that, you need to use buses everyday in Caracas.

    • I had to look it up – but yes looks like the exact right word.

      an·ar·chic
      əˈnärˌkik/Submit
      adjective
      with no controlling rules or principles to give order.
      “an anarchic and bitter civil war”
      synonyms: lawless, without law and order, in disorder, in turmoil, unruly, disordered, disorganized, chaotic, turbulent; More

      • Just to get the terms right:

        “The word anarchy comes from the ancient Greek ἀναρχία (anarchia), which combines ἀ (a), “not, without” and ἀρχή (arkhi), “ruler, leader, authority.” Thus, the term refers to a person or society “without rulers” or “without leaders”.”

        To connote it with “lawless”, “disordered”, “chaotic” is an achievement of fascists/socialists so as people wouldn’t have a semantic tool to express more decentralized order/organisation. In essence, anarchy in its orthodox sense means decentralization of power. Not a society run by yobs and gangsters.

  3. Buses tell us a lot.

    One thing this ostensibly socialist government could have and should have taken over, years ago, it didn’t. Doing what major cities have done around the world- replacing a pile of private, unsafe junk boxes with a safe, well maintained comprehensive public bus system- would have addressed so many problems, including putrid air, gridlock, local corruption in the form of bus mafias, and the political third rail of gas subsidies.

    In a different world there would be a great opportunity here to buy out the owner operators at bargain basement prices, turning abject failure into a solution. Maybe still. Because you can see at the end of all this, private or not, there is going to have to be a huge injection of funds into the system to fix it, given what is described here as its current state.

    • That “great opportunity” would be IF the current government and current set of restrictions disappear. As it is, owning the public transportation in Venezuela right now would be just wasting your money.

  4. Cannuck, I think the regime does control a major percentage of public transport in the country. And your assuption that if they did it would somehow translate to it running like, well, a well-oiled machine, is lost on me. Other than fuck everything up and steal with reckless abandon, these clowns don’t do anything well. You should know that by now.

    • Systems that are owned and controlled by government are not subject to price controls. Like the Caracas metro. There is just THE price.

      I’m familiar with two Venezuelan cities: Caracas and Barinas. I’ve never seen a government owned bus service in either. Perhaps some exist. I am not aware of them. Price controls apply to buses in those cities because the government does not own them and does not therefore directly control the fare schedule.

      Most people travel in buses that are privately owned by “collectivos”. Collectivos are what happen when you leave the “market” to take care of public transport. Long story. Interesting story, but not in a good way. Maduro would know about how those work. In a way, the Venezuelan regime is one big “collectivo” in the way it operates. Comparisons can be made with respect to other areas, like drayage, and taxis. All private sector enterprises that tend to be dominated by mafias.

      Buses are an interesting and much overlooked subject.

      Thanks Javier Liendo.

      • In Caracas there are Bus Caracas (I think that’s its name), Transito Chacao, and one from Municipio El Hatillo (don’t know what it’s called). There may be more in areas I don’t usually visit, but these three are owned by local governments (municipios)

        • Thanks for the response. So it can be done. Bus Caracas was established in late 2012 and TransChacao has been around since 2009.

          These entities should be the rule and not the exceptions.

          • I agree with you. In the 70’s there was the Emsa Buses (not sure how it was spelled). Anyway, these green buses charged twice the fare than the red buses. But they were clean, drivers were repectful and in general provided good service. Theywere later replaced by blue buses, some of which were double length, with an “accordion” in the middle. These were pretty good too. But like anything the government (any government) manages, they eventually disappeared.

  5. To Rubios point, there’s no way the Chavist’s have the wherewithal to buy or even expropriate (or “nationalize”) the bus system – if you can call it a system – and do anything but make it worse – if that’s possible. Imagine what would happen to any funds targeted for the autobuses, and the accounting for fares collected. Whole thing would tank in a week.

    People aren’t getting that Venezuela is still marginally functional only by virtue of the last vestiges of the private sector and those brave folk who keep striving out of pride, virtue and divine grace.

    The Chavistas at this point are like a Midas de baño – all they touch turns to mierda.

  6. I believe government-owned public transport pre-dates chavismo. Over the years I’ve seen any number of caravans of new Chinese-made buses headed for Maturin and other eastern cities. No way that was private enterprise in action.

    There’s now a government bus servicing this pueblo and it’s new enough that to date it’s been reliable. It’s also put the final nail in the coffin of one local private transport company.

    Just a month or two ago, during one of the military tributes, there were hundreds of new taxis lined up and a follow-up ceremony with Maduro handing out keys. And if memory serves, is there not a “transportista sector” in the ANC?

    Chavismo seems heavily involved in public transport which might be a clue as to why it’s rapidly becoming a smoldering pile of shit.

    • Here in the Boston area we have very good public transit systems, and yet the fastest growing system is Uber. It is especially favored by the millennial high tech crowd, a class politicians are loath to displeasure, and so it can grow and prosper with little government interference. Thank you, smartphones!

  7. More and more I am hearing that gasoline is disappearing from areas of the country.
    Farmers can not obtain fuel for their equipment. I would assume that trucks must also be unable to access fuel for deliveries.
    This makes me think that the very little food that is available will rapidly disappear from the markets.
    How can the military remain so cohesive while the people they are charged with protecting are suffering so intensely and the constitution is being torn to shreds?
    It is mind boggling that this regime still maintains control of the country.

    • ” It is mind boggling that this regime still maintains control of the country.”

      Because people have been brainwashed with the “vote and wait in your house for a miracle to happen because anything else you do means you’ll be killed by the chavistas” since the rotten traitor ordered to rain gunfire upon the people in april of 2002.

  8. John, we’re paying 50,000 bs per 55 gallon drum to have diesel and gasoline delivered to our door. The last drum of diesel I bought personally I paid 11, yes, that’s right, 11 bs for it but I refuse to put my vehicle and my life at risk to haul fuel today.

    Producers are in a world of hurt here for lack of both fuels, mainly diesel for irrigation pumps and gasoline for their motorbikes. The next boom will be in producing burros for everyday transport. I hope I’m dead before giving the idea serious consideration myself.

    • Burro’s are an excellent choice. They are more reliable than airplanes in VZ. I remember several times flying around the airport at Punto Fijo for an hour, until airport staff chase the burro’s away. (now the burro’s is the most reliable form of transportation of the peninsula). You can eat too.

  9. This is from the trading economics website.
    https://tradingeconomics.com/venezuela/crude-oil-production
    Venezuela can not even meet the reduced OPEC production numbers.
    The $782 million trade deficit tells the true story. A trade deficit is the wealth of a nation leaving the country.
    If the foreign reserves still exist ( I doubt those numbers) the reserves will be gone even if they aren’t used for debt service.
    Foreign direct investment has dropped from a high of over $3 billion to the current $12 million.

    Venezuela Trade Last Previous Highest Lowest Unit
    Balance of Trade -782.00 3330.00 17732.00 -2015.00 USD Million [+]
    Exports 8483.00 12108.00 30743.00 2995.00 USD Million [+]
    Imports 9576.00 8778.00 17841.00 1970.00 USD Million [+]
    Current Account -5113.00 -5050.00 15502.00 -6088.00 USD Million [+]
    Current Account to GDP 1.40 2.90 17.70 -9.20 percent [+]
    External Debt 70.00 458.00 2189.00 0.00 USD Million [+]
    Remittances 836.00 803.00 836.00 136.00 USD Million [+]
    Gold Reserves 188.06 187.46 372.93 187.46 Tonnes [+]
    Crude Oil Production 2100.00 2117.00 3453.00 594.00 BBL/D/1K [+]
    Terrorism Index 2.00 2.14 3.12 0.63 [+]
    Foreign Direct Investment 12.00 547.00 3061.00 -2040.00 USD Million [+]

    There is literally nothing left. How long Russia will prop up the regime through Roseneft is questionable. Russia must be close to realizing that they stand a very low chance of ever recovering their loans and prepaid oil. The National Assembly has notified all embassies that any debt not approved by the Assembly is invalid.

  10. How can the military remain so cohesive?
    ——

    Mystery to me, so I wonder if it really IS cohesive, as advertised. The strange thing to consider is that a coup might be out of the question by any thinking General because there is nothing for him/them to inherit but empty shelves and a gutted infrastructure – and who wants to try and rebuild that? Of course there might be the chance to loot any World Bank loans if those got pushed through, so maybe there’s hope still. But it’s hard to believe given the tune of the military so far that reconstruction is on anybody’s mind. Once the cash cow is officially dead, I reckon they’ll just bugger off.

  11. Military men are not part of a unified group , they are atomized by mutual fears and separate interests and agendas , acting together to stage a coup requires mutual trust between participants , but thats impossible in todays army which is so divided by fears and opposed interests and agendas , the fear is founded on the idea that if you plan a coup you need the cooperation of many others which you cant really trust , its a kind of priioners dilemma writ large , this does not mean that most military are pro regime , but that circumstances make it difficult for them to act . too risky , to uncertain so they maintain a status quo that at leas allows them to survive and sometimes even ( if you are enough of a toady) to prosper..

  12. Where is all of the oil / fuel going?

    Today’s news is reporting that US imports of Venezuelan oil hit a 14 year low in September.

    https://finance.yahoo.com/news/venezuelas-u-crude-sales-hit-205927454.html

    The country is running out of refined products. The economic downturn has also reduced domestic demand for fuel substantially. If Russia isn’t receiving double or triple what they were receiving, and I doubt that they are, Venezuelan oil production is collapsing at a much quicker pace than originally anticipated.

    For all practical purposes the regime and PDVSA are the same entity. The regime only realizes cash for about 1/2 of their oil production. This is due to the shipments sent to China and Russia to repay debt and oil that has already been paid for well in advance. Low price and free oil sent to Cuba and other regime supporting nations, coupled with the ridiculously low price of domestic fuel also reduce the amount of oil for sale in the market.

    Venezelan oil is some of the highest cost oil to get out of the ground, (lift cost) second only to fracking. Lift cost is around $27 per barrel. For every 2 barrels taken out of the ground at a cost of almost $55, the regime realizes between $35 and $40 in cash.
    Stiffing the companies that maintained the wells worked for a while. The bloated salaries at PDVSA and a work force that is double what is necessary must be addressed. In the meantime, falling production against fixed overhead just keeps increasing the per barrel costs.

    Around the start of 2017, I posted my back of the envelope math and predicted that the regime had no possibility of meeting the debt obligations coming due. At the time I was predicting oil production to drop to 2 million barrels per day. The regime does not release production numbers.
    Estimating production at 1.5 million barrels per day is probably closer to reality. This would be about 55% – 60% less than the highest production. If oil were to double in price, the regime can not dig itself out of this hole.

    • John, I’ve been waiting for several weeks now for a second shipment of plastic drums from the Morichal heavy oil plant in Monagas. Every time I phone my contact the story’s the same: the plant is experiencing power shortages, labor union problems, and lack of chemicals. It really does feel like PDVSA is coming unwound.

      Just in case, I ordered 4 more drums of diesel for this week. Gotta prepare for the worse.

  13. Bill, good comments, but my point was not so much the organizational and trust issues of LAUNCHING a coup, but the nightmare anyone would inherit it a coup was successful. Imagine that through some miracle, a group did pull off a coup. Then what? They’d have no money to work with, no cohesive group to join or really with. They’d have power, but to do what? As you mentioned, the atomization of the military as well as society at large has thrust the country into a state of paralysis, with few able to act in any meaningful way, except in their own self interests. While self interests have dominated Venezuelan politics and military actions since Chavez took over, one wonders how such a fractured and polarized band of factions could ever work in the same direction, in the service of the country at large. We have seen the tragedy in the African nations, which emerged from tribalism, and could rarely come together in one cohesive group when various chiefs and tribes were all vying for power. An actual national movement, with the majority on board, seems like a pipe dream at this point, and a raft of IMG loans will only deepen the problem as the various factions vie for a wedge of the pie.

    And what happened to Leopoldo Lopez? And the talks in the DR?

  14. I just read in The Economist that Cuba imports 80% of its food. I’m shocked, I had no idea it was so high, that helps explain what has been taking Venezuela from a food exporting country to the current situation.

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