Caraqueños in Kennels

The difficult situation with public transportation in Caracas has forced people to adapt – and nurture the excesses of anarchy.

“Twice I’ve had to go up to Las Casitas, at the top of La Vega, in a truck. I hold tight to the railing because I’m scared.”

But how do you do that while carrying several bags of groceries?

“Those up there lend us a hand. I have to make the sacrifice. Otherwise I have to wait a long time at the bus stop and I can’t arrive that late, it’s too dangerous.”

Esperanza González works in downtown Caracas and she’s headed to La Vega parish on a camionetica. The trip takes over 40 minutes. Once she’s in the redoma of La Vega, she takes another bus and that’s another 30 minutes to her house.

But things have been getting worse due to lack of public transport.

Now, if there are no buses, she climbs on a truck that makes the rush-hour trip from the redoma to the top side. This is what they call “perreras” (kennels) in other parts of the country; passengers are literally hanging from the railings and shout “parada” when they approach their stop.

Drivers charge whatever they want for this service.

“The first time, I paid Bs. 300 to go up and Bs. 500 to come back down” Esperanza says, still amazed by the feat. “Imagine how my family in Colombia will look at me when I tell them we’re using kennels.”

“Those up there lend us a hand. I have to make the sacrifice. Otherwise I have to wait a long time at the bus stop and I can’t arrive that late, it’s too dangerous.”

In Caracas, where transport is grouped in five blocks for a total of 327 bus lines, 40,000 units are currently out of order.

The causes: scarce and expensive parts for a guild that doesn’t get foreign currency since 2007. In early October, the union warned that over 90% of buses would go on a technical strike and halfway through the month, they announced a fare hike from Bs. 280 to Bs. 700 in some routes, and others may even charge Bs. 1,000.

Bus drivers unilaterally imposed the new fare since the government’s pays no mind to the issue, and it’s passengers who must pay Bs. 2,800 for four bus rides a day, Bs. 14,000 a week and Bs. 56,000 a month. In public transportation only.

Forced to walk

This adjustment won’t solve the crisis, and users see their salaries go down the drain and their shoes damage- if there are no buses or “kennels,” they’re forced to walk to their destinations.

People in low-income areas already making the trip up and down on foot. “I have to take my girl to school, come back home and then pick her up. I spend a lot of time waiting in bus stops and when a car finally arrives, the driver charges whatever he wants. I decided to walk, as long as I feel safe, because that’s another problem.”

Hugo Ocando, representative for the Association of Bus Drivers of Western Caracas, estimated a near 100% service shut down by the end of the year. The government is offering them tires that won’t be enough for the current demand, while they can be found in the black market for more that six million bolívares.

As buses end up in workshops and parking lots, kennels a la cubana, are getting traction in Venezuela’s capital.

Mabel Sarmiento

Mabel Sarmiento is an UCAB-trained journalist with more than 20 years' experience covering community news, the environment, health, education and infrastructure.