Taking the bus to my Spanish lessons is both a matter of principle and a reflection of my fear of driving in Puerto Rico… However, lately there have been some interesting developments to the local public transport:
Last Tuesday I had to run to catch the bus (I just hate running to catch any kind of public transport, and used to think that there was no point – better wait for the next one, but you see, the buses are not that frequent in San Juan…) and once on board, I was surprised to hear that la guagua was free!! Not sure if I had understood, I asked the Berlitz receptionist if it was correct and she explained that the governor of Puerto Rico had announced that the buses would be free until the elections! On my way back home, the bus was absolutely packed and once at home I started thinking:
- why is public transport all of a sudden free, is it really a question of saving the environment and / or avoiding the traffic congestion or simply a question of politics (the local elections are approaching quickly)?
- who is paying for this so-called free public transport? (answer: the tax-payers, of course!!)
- who are all these people who think that saving $ 0.75 per busride is the deal-breaker between taking the bus, walk or drive a car? I mean, with the currenct petrol (gas) prices, three quarters of a dollar must be cheaper than driving a car, or…??
A little research made me realise that it is probably more about winning political points than saving the environment (or maybe not, actually since last week we have two garbage bins in the building; one for recycling (plastic, metal and paper) and one for normal garbage!) but somehow it is working – the buses were full on Thursday as well!
However, the new principle of free public transport (until the 31st December according to the newspapers) has revealed some facts, that have been known to the users for a long time already, i.e that the public transport system in Puerto Rico needs to be improved;
- buses are infrequent and usually over-crowded (and even more so now, when the number of passengers has increased)
- buses are depending on the general traffic situation, if there are traffic jams, these will also affect the bus time-table
- if the bus is too full, the bus driver very often decides to just pass a bus stop where frustrated people usually have been waiting for an unacceptable long time already..
- connections between buses or two different kinds of transport (tren urbano – bus) are not facilitated because of the discrepancies in time-tables
I acknowledge that some improvements (??) have been made (or at least changes, don’t know if they are really improvements), such as new buses have been introduced and lately new bus routes (which by the way mean that the social housing projects in Isla Verde don’t have the normal bus service anymore!!). However, there is a long way to go before the service is comparable to the European standards I am used to (and I lived in Brussels for more than 5 years, where public transport quite frankly is crap*!)…
Political gains or not, I hope that the free buses will mean that more people discover public transport in San Juan and that somehow they will find it more attractive than driving. Unfortunately, I think that the service has to be greatly improved before the majority decides to leave the car at home! Hopefully if more people use the buses (and tren urbano), the vicious circle will be broken and less cars on the roads might imply better bus services!? Wishful thinking from an European bus passenger… 😕
*) Generally, public transport works well in Europe, and is not usually a class issue; for example my brother has a car but choses to commute by train as it is easier and less stressful, and he saves a lot of money on petrol and parking fees…
PS If you understand Spanish, here’s a sarcastic view of the new system of free buses…