Original art by @modográfico

When you use the Metro, pay attention and perhaps you’ll see an operator standing on the platform’s yellow stripe, waving red flags. He might go unnoticed in the crowd, but he’s a manual controller and he uses the flags to authorize the upcoming train to enter the station.

If you see him, it means that there’s no communication between the trains and the operations center. The trains lower the speed to 15 km/h in those cases, a common occurance now.

During its first two decades, the Metro worked fine. The system didn’t lose money and was seen as the most modern in Latin America; delays were rare, escalators and elevators worked. We used to say “Wish people would behave like they do in the Metro.”

There was a culture of care thanks to user education. Using the subway could save people over 40 minutes in traffic on the streets above.

Metro’s decline

In 1983, the Metro was planned to transport 700,000 passengers. Now, it transports 2,500,000 people, half of Caracas’ population. Being that overcrowded has degraded the service, maintenance isn’t a priority and whatever funds the company earns is used for the payroll, 10,000 employees whose base salary falls below Bs. 400,000 a month (some $1.76 at the current black market rate).

Metro de Caracas is a company subsidized by the government. The price of the tickets (Bs. 4 for a one-way ticket, 0.000017 cents of a dollar) isn’t enough to cover the payroll or to pay providers.

Engineer Ricardo Sansone, laid off by the company in 2002 for refusing to adhere to the chavista management, says that “the company is a heavy load for the State, among other reasons because its capacity to generate its own income has been poorly managed.”

“The State subsidizes a company that loses 25% of its revenue because between 50% and 60% of turnstiles are out of order, the price of the ticket is symbolic and ticket-dispensing machines are malfunctioning.”

No comptrollership

A train that covers 185,000 km per year requires an exhaustive maintenance plan, but we officially don’t know how much the government has invested on the system.

In 2017, President Nicolás Maduro approved three million dollars to “invest them on improving the operational capacity of trains, railways, power distribution, stations, revenues, spare parts and cleaning” while Metro chairman César Ramón Vega González said that there was a project presented by the employees themselves to acquire 169 escalators for 2018.

However, 300 of the system’s 376 escalators are out of order for lack of parts. They don’t even cannibalize dismantled escalators anymore, they don’t have parts either. Many operator booths have no employees in them and several stations don’t have tickets due to a debt with Alcatel, the company that makes the rolls to print them, so the service is now practically free.

In dirty platforms and train cars without air conditioning, people get drunk, pee, sell trinkets or beg just like in the the city above it.

Between November and December 2017, the government merely launched two plans to “embellish” the stations, as they’ve done in streets and squares. They painted ceilings, walls and railings; they cleaned the green areas and placed new light bulbs. The company’s employees were forced to work on that for free.

In late January 2018, a security plan was implemented in all 48 stations, since they didn’t have either operators or guards. The plan was unsuccessful and the Metro is just as unsafe as the surface. There have even been incidents that the government calls acts of terrorism: four tear-gas canisters in stations and a suitcase allegedly containing an explosive device.

Fear reigns. The employees are at the mercy of an union, Sitrameca, chaired by Edison Alvarado (close to Maduro) who’s accused of ruling as a tyrant and ban criticism. Alvarado’s sister heads the Human Resources department and one of his brothers heads the Finance department.

Picking up the pieces

When it opened to the public, the Metro de Caracas system represented the largest engineering and technology achievement for the country in terms of transport infrastructure. It required an initial investment of two million dollars with French technology from Alstom, which was later joined by the contribution of Spain’s Andean Development Bank (CAF).

Little of that remains. In dirty platforms and train cars without air conditioning, people get drunk, pee, sell trinkets or beg just like in the the city above it.

Additionally, everything can shut down at any moment due to power outages; the Metro is the reflection of a collapsed country. With all the serious failures in public services, caraqueños, regardless of whether they have money or not, get up every day without knowing what they’ll find on the streets… or below them.

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    • Having grown up with the Caracas metro, the first time I rode the NYC subway I got soooooo lost. I kept asking officials how to get to my destination, they would mention a train number and point to a platform. But I never imagined that a platform could be used by more than one train, so I would take the first train that appeared…

      • I remember the day they inaugurated the Metro. It was like another country had sprung up underground. You could actually see peoples behavior change when entering or exiting it to/from the surface. It became almost like a constant wish to become that country riding underneath reality.

        It also galls me to think that the Narco In Chief was a part of it, saw how a well managed public utility could effect positive change and still decided to kill it by abandonment.

        First time I rode the NYC subway, I had to connect to the Long Island Railroad to continue.

        For the life of me, I couldn’t understand the PA system that kept saying: “You must poichess your tickets for the Longailand Railroad on the lowa concoise”.

        The look I got from a passerby when I asked him what poichase and concoise meant. Priceless.

  1. Presentar los sueldos en dólares al cambio de dolartoday en una economía que está lejos de estar dolarizada es engañoso e irreal y, como mucho, solo sirve para alimentar el morbo. Si se quiere informar se debería usar una tasa no especulativa que permita así saber cuales son los precios reales en Venezuela de un modo más preciso.

    (por si a alguien le interesa, aquí http://lubrio.blogspot.com.es/2017/12/dandose-una-ducha-en-el-metro-de-caracas.html tienen el testimonio en primera persona de un chavista contando el calvario que supone ir en metro)

    • Estamos esperando que liberen el mercad, echale una llamaita al BCV.
      Y a quien podria interesarle lo que escribe un chavista con bozal de arepa?

    • Where can one find a “non -speculative rate” to exchange VEF into *ANY* currency or commodity of recognizable value?

      Chavismo has distorted all exchanges in Vz into meaninglessness. At least the DT rate is free and thus better than anything official.

  2. The problem with Maintenance in Kleptozuela is simple. It affects every industry, oil, electricity, transportation.. It’s, as always, the CHP factor:

    “Cuanto hay p’a eso?” – The inevitable screening question before Kleptozuelans decide to work on anything. It’s the infamous “T’a bien, pana, pero como quedo yo ahi?”..

    You see, Maintenance is not a juicy proposition for various reasons:

    1/ It takes planning, foresight, unselfish work. Employees and managers need to look ahead and prevent malfunctions. That’s work on the field and on paper that doesn’t pay off. Certainly not immediately. The classic “Eso no paga, chamo” Kleptozuelan syndrome. To el buen criollo, that’s like working for free. “Que va pana, ese cable que se lo cale otro, a mi ponme donde hay.”

    2/ Once the correct planning is done, or just to prevent major imminent malfunctions, and, ultimately to repair broken down units or systems, there are major investments to be made. You’d think, “ahora si, la vaina se pone guena!” but wait, it can be a lot of details, tough jobs, parts, savoir faire, technicalities.. “coño, loco, esa vaina se ve pelua..”

    Back in the 90’s I used to work with Edelca, Ocimeca, and closely with CG Alsthom, one of the French firms with the Metro. (We were Spie Batignolles, the larger construction multinational umbrella.) The seeds for all this corruption and lack of maintenance were already there. The purchasing department Guisos were already huge, but there was prevention and maintenance, effective on the work plan.

    In principle and in decent countries, the appropriate purchasing department would issue RFP (requests for proposal or RFQ’s) to the best bidders, put them in competition, study the proposals, and award the PO. That, of course, is considered ‘historic’ in Kleptozuela today, ancient practices. Under Chavismo, it’s very simple: “Ese guiso le toca a Wilfredo, webon.” So you’ve put all that work to that point, y “nada p’al que te conte, nojoda..”

    So it’s up to Wilfredo to cook his filthy deal with a bunch of suppliers overseas, greasing everyone in between. That’s what a “Supply Chain” is in Kleptozuelan procurement terms: an intricate bribing system, from the Cadivi thiefs for ‘divisas’, to the manufacturer say in Mexico or Miami, to the logistics crooks, to the customs ‘Mordida Masters’ down at La Guaira or Pto Cabello, to the local panas camioneros.. Lots of workers in between are left out, y se arrechan.. so they start stealing all they can for resale, even to sabotage the process. Six months later after all the mordidas and bureaucracy some parts might arrive.. But others will soon break down, because the unrewarded “prevision de mantenimiento” was a sham.

    Additionally, these maintenance orders are often recurring orders, same parts and materials, so the Guisos are stuck to the same few beneficiaries. The Metro Mafia, or Corpoelec Capos, let’s say. Everybody else, thousands of salivating hyenas and ‘trabajadores rebolusionarios’ get nothing, se que ‘pelando’. Thus, they’re not into Maintenance, too much work for nothing. And no one doing the right job would get any credit for it. Not even that. No recognition for planning ahead, preventing disasters, nothing. “Me dejaron guindao con los repuestos, la proxima vez que se la cale otro”..

    The juicy deals are with big purchase orders, large one-time purchases, untraceablesay the Derwick “power plants” from Tanzania, used instead of new, incomplete, worthless.. “tremendo palo, chico, eso si!!”

    As usual, when one is left scratching one’s head about any Kleptozuelan mysterious disaster, look no further than Massive, Galactic Corruption for the explanation. At every step. People talk about “incompetence”, the wrong “ideology”.. NO. They are very competent Thieves. Even if they charged for Metro tickets, that money would be stolen, and would never go through the intricate ‘maintenance’ process. They know what should be done, how it must be done. They proved it for 2 decades, when things ran well, with some corruption. Normal Latin American levels of corruption, as we had before. But with Chavista Astronomical levels of corruption, Maintenance is simply impossible. “Esa vaina no paga, chamo, no seas tu tan marico, tanto trabajo de gratis, que va! quien me mantiene a mi, no joda..”. People are lazy, and extremely corrupt, at all levels of the Kleptozoide Supply Chain. Chavismo 101.

    • Poeta, so, this happened when there WAS money available, imagine now, and what hope is there for the future in Venezuela, even IF there were to be rational economic management/money available…the cultural/societal problem IS endemic….

    • Yes, it’s beyond endemic, almost embedded in the Latino DNA. But how was corruption controlled in developed nations, successful 1st world countries? Why does Chile, the USA or Norway, (rid of the “oil curse”), work?

      Tough love: Laws, and Education. Real education and punishment for breaking the law.

      That’s why Klepto-Narco Cubazuela needed Perez Jimenismo instead of Chavismo for a couple decades. We would be way better than Chile today.

      • I just want thank you (and Senor MRubio) for your discourses on reality, from well thought and logical points of view. I left there 2001, with “future look so bright” (LOL)funny that you keep bringing Chile up. Somebody has to dig Pinochet out his grave
        and teach people some “tough love”. But this is not to happen overnight, especially with “socialist Chavismo” – giveme-giveme”. With Pinochet he hired “The Boys from Chicago” to teach fundamental Economics (including with this – how to take care of something and the energy (money) to have expend (including waste / entropy) to maintain your country.

    • As little kids, five of us were roaming the streets one quiet Sunday morning, and saw an abastos (closed) with a display with bombones behind a piece of quarter-inch plastic. It was right up against the santamaria, and all we had to do was pry one nail out of the wood, and we could stick our greedy little fingers in and snag some. We were working on that, all eyes on the job, when a big Portugues came charging out of the back of the store roaring …. You’ve never seen five little kids disappear so fast. We set sprint land speed records, 100 meters in 8.0 seconds flat, ages before Usain Bolt had even learned to crawl. Wings. We never, ever, did that again. Actually, we never were on that street again.

      That’s all it takes to cure someone.

  3. This saddens me to my core. Showing off the Metro to foreigners was such a moment of pride and joy for me. The smell of the clean , air-conditioned wagon going to Parque del Este is instilled in my brain as one of my happiest memories.

  4. Really sad indeed.
    “Spain’s Andean Development Bank (CAF)”
    I guess you’re either talking about financing from CAF (Corporación Andina de Fomento, a Latin American development bank) or technology from CAF (Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles, a Spanish railway and transportation company).

  5. The CICPC security effort at the Metro stations was quickly abandoned, as the many thieves caught red-handed were literally freed within hours by judicial authorities and back stealing at the same stations in front of the same CICPC who had apprehended them, which CICPC feared reprisals from the thieves….Bolivarian socialism at work.

    • I remember when HCF said (something to the effect) the poor have the right to steal from the poor? Soon the country was diving, seeing who could be first a el fundo, which has yet to be found.. there is no bottom until the regime leaves. Socialism of the lowest common denominator.. if you don’t like it leave. It takes a lot of effort and time to destroy a prosperous, growing and mainly educated country.. I still don’t see an end.

  6. “it required an initial investment of two million dollars with French technology from Alstom”

    I think that is supposed to say “two billion”, not “two million”. 2 million would be peanuts for a project of this size.

  7. “Little of that remains. In dirty platforms and train cars without air conditioning, people get drunk, pee, sell trinkets or beg just like in the the city above it.”

    Sounds like NYC subway in the 1970s …

  8. Great article and analysis. And it is needed as yet one more very important part of the whole picture.

    A few weeks ago I looked at the transit system in Singapore (wanted to pick one that was well-ordered and functioning, with heavy traffic – I also looked at buses in the U.S., but prices vary widely, in some places almost by ten times). They gave numbers of tickets per day, as well as costs. But trying to extrapolate with the same parameters to Caracas – I just ended up with wild guesses because I didn’t know where to get critical data such as numbers of employees and salary expenses. I guessed that the government was subsidizing the operations, but not a clue as to how much the subsidy was.

    Mabel Sarmiento’s article covers the data necessary to get some sense of comparison.

  9. When a daily commuter’s annual subway fare adds up to less than the price of a Twinkie, problems like these seem all-too-predictable.


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