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New buses, old habits

There were those who dared to say that they came to spoil their lives; others evade you. Not all the drivers liked the idea of having them on the buses with them.

Wilmer Almenares, Brannis González, Alexis Feria, Yasser Vázquez and Yocel Acosta felt received like meddlers. They invaded a world of twists that resisted being straightened out.

These young social workers can write a diary about everything they have gone through along the highways of the country because not only passengers and drivers ride the new Yutong, also aboard the new buses are old habits and distortions which spread through society the years.

Trying to understand this possible microcosm, Wilmer described those first days when it was his turn to board one of these buses: "During the trip several cracks began to appear that defiled comfortableness because there are drivers who are gems but others who are not..."

I did my duty - he explains -; he explained to travelers their rights and duties on the bus and helped in whatever was needed.

Making a quick evaluation, Brannis explained that they have discovered problems both during check-in before departure, such as the baggage service and also on board.

"At times the check-ups of the conditions of the bus are not done correctly or with the required exigency The person who controls the conditions of the bus arrives and, right away asks the driver how everything is. Logically he answers that everything is all right."

That is why - explains the social worker - you see dirty buses or some with audio and video equipment broken, for example. When they drive along the highway in that condition it is because the person in charge violated the established norms.

Wilmer recalls another frequent complaint: "There have been instances when drivers have not allowed the use of the bathrooms because they claim that they have no products to clean them. These are supposedly guaranteed...but something is failing and the most affected, in the end, is the passenger", he explains.

Brannis questions similar situations, explaining that the bus should arrive at the terminal one hour before leaving again to verify all these problems because the traveler is paying for a special service. That includes proper hygienic and sanitary conditions, functioning air conditioning and DVD equipment or tape recorders. But this is not being done with the proper strictness.

Revving up the motors

Thorny situations have also been found in the baggage service. Brannis told how once they even loaded up a refrigerator when transportation of equipment is not allowed.

"This is an obvious case where an arrangement was made between the passenger, baggage collector and driver. With money "under the table" even transportation of merchandise is allowed that exceeds the established weight or that are forbidden."

Alexis remembers other "subtleties" that they have found in the service such as the fact that persons in charge of moving baggage to the bus and are responsible for placing them properly in the baggage compartment, charge the passengers for the service.

In other cases, to evade consequences of possible inspections of baggage contents, the document that must have the information to identify the owner is left without filling in. That way the passenger who carries suspicious baggage gets off scott free, Yasser explains.

On these trips the young persons have detected other irregularities. Wilmer had an experience in one of the trips to the eastern provinces where the driver left his route to go to a private home where food was sold, "a paladar". This way the drivers did not have to pay because he brought a lot of clients.

Brannis warned that to guarantee the security of the passenger's bags the bus must not stop in the city nor open the baggage compartment. "That has always not been the case."

However - he confirms - picking up people on the highway is not as frequent as before when it was customary to see the aisles packed with people. But they continue leaving seats unoccupied when they arrive at intermediate stopovers. Later, the driver picks up those who show a fan of money.

"Now they are charging on board. This has been a complaint of the population but it is good to mention it. We already told the authorities of ASTRO to give us the key of charge by destination. Because if not, other disturbances can occur," Brannis maintains.

Alexis acknowledges that some times passengers are "hit" with over pricing. We believe that they should know how much there passage is. "At times, when stopping at terminals, some drivers keep their eyes on us, they watch us to do their fiddling."

Hangovers of relaxation

These stories demonstrate that inter-provincial transportation service suffers distortions inherited from times preceding the present revitalization. The hangovers of relaxation of discipline try to continue although the transformations also imply that these disturbances be cleared.

While social workers cooperate in eliminating this pandemic, there are those who try to bribe them and others who have threatened to denounce them for lack of discipline.

The social workers are well aware of these furtive movements since, during the beginning of 2006, they accompany the passengers to achieve a culture of excellence on board.

Getting on these buses has been an interesting experience. Guaranteeing the well-being of the passenger has led us to develop a high sense of responsibility for overcoming any problem.

The task called Trails of Virtue, explains the head of the National Program of Social Workers, Enrique Gomez Cabezas, is to create a culture of care in the buses and to prevent certain habits which have been entrenched. The main objective is to care for these new machines and guarantee an integral service.

"It's about changing concepts, of listening to suggestions, of knowing the situation of opinions and identifying any problem which shows up. The more than 600 young people involved in this mission have revealed important problems in the sector," he explained.

Discovering the cracks

But these stories also targeted the bus stations. There are several examples that demonstrate how the habit of cheating spreads even there.

Wilmer explains that many of these rest stops are in terrible condition, with problems of cleanliness and poor quality food service.

"If we begin talking of the broad network of private sellers in these parts, we would never end. The braver board the bus. Once, one of these tried to rob a passenger and I had to intervene."

In the bus stations - Brannis considers - there should also be social workers to try to free the ramps of illegalities. There, seats are sold under the table.

At times - the social worker explains - in La Coubre and several bus station ticket offices where passages are sold at the last minute, that is, from the waiting list, I have seen persons who resell their tickets.

Brannis believes that the problems they have mentioned have not affected some of the provincial entities. Certain drivers scorn the work done by the social workers. And this may happen because some directors have turned a blind eye to these problems.

The young man says he is encouraged after the last meeting they had with ASTRO representatives who were very receptive to their points of view and proposals to solve the problems.

On the table

Other realities begin to be placed on the table with the investigations done by the social workers. That is the case of some drivers who have had to pay for cleaning their bus in time.

At the same time, Yasser questions the effectiveness of the laundry service since some drivers have had to invent headrest cloths because they say they are easier to wash than the ones made of sponge.

In terms of repairs, the situation did not vary much. Yocel knows a driver who had to pay a high amount to fix the DVD. "The entity has the means to solve these problems but there are factors that hinder its proper functioning and this must be checked up and controlled,"he considers.

In the listing of irregularities, Yasser mentions those associated to the work of the road inspectors. "These supervisors some times stop the bus for a control and delay the trip. The procedure should be done on board a moving bus," he comments.

Thermometers on the bus

Although drivers like Senén Rodríguez the work of the social workers makes no sense although there are others who appreciate the presence of these young persons on the bus.

Roberto Porras, for example, considers them his right hand. They help everywhere they are needed and are always attentive of the needs of passengers, clear up doubts or make the trip more agreeable.

For Silvio Morejon, it seems that the young people should achieve a greater interaction with passengers "because there are some very decided and communicative but there are others who are timid."

Pedro Avellanes would never want them removed. "What we have to do here is the correct thing. They do not obstruct work but suggest what music or videos are better. If there is a handicapped person, they help them. They are very responsible and serious," he affirms.

For many who travel in a Yutong, the social workers are like thermometers. Roberto Hernandez considers that with them on board many bad habits which have affected inter-provincial transportation can be overcome.

"In truth, they should be present in all the services ASTRO offers. They directly take the pulse of this reality and identify with the problems. I think that this is the way to set up better strategies to stop these actions," he believes.

Camagueyan María Teresa Hernández also feels revitalized with the work of the young persons in the Yutong. "We won't achieve anything if we have new buses and don't change the minds of people. Because it is not worthwhile to have these buses if violations are committed, if they are not cared for or do not treat passengers properly," she points out.

"The activities of the social workers propose a change of mentality. They lay siege to those cracks through which illegalities slip by. And I believe that, in a certain measure, messes are less evident. Although there are still those who dare," she explains.

Virginia de Armas doesn't travel much. Still, she says it is not necessary to travel every day to notice the weeds that have grown around transportations during these past years. "If we want to eradicate poor tendencies they must be pointed out to prevent them falling into a bottomless bag. And to achieve it this troop should have addition moral force.

In the capital bus station, Ana Lidia Pardo was preparing to travel and became aware of the presence of the young persons. "I think it is a good idea to have them on the bus. They can detect what darkens the quality of service, but I believe that the young persons should stand out a bit more."

A breath of air for the Yutong

"We cover more than one hundred routes and participate in 147 departures everywhere in the country. But before boarding the bus we train for this important task", expresses Osmel Castro, national task coordinator of the social workers.

"We do not only travel on the usual routes but even reach those that cover travel by train. Our main objective is to gain culture in inter-provincial public transportation but for this old concepts must be overcome and detox ourselves from bad tendencies."

Although social workers have given breath to the service offered by the Yutong, they still feel that ASTRO branches in each province should give incidents reported more follow up.

The social worker must have the passenger on his right hand and each day improves to make the trip more enjoyable and satisfactory. "There are many initiatives that have been put in practice, such as giving a post card to women on Women's Day or giving a talk on sexual education, among others."

"We are not here to complicate things for the passengers but to help them. It is our only principle," he assures.

- How is the task organized?

- The young persons mobilize for a period of six months. They work outside their provinces and are directed by a cadre in each territory.

"They are part of a brigade; after three months its members must move on to other routes and departures. Every three months we analyze problems with all those involved. But, also, while the task is ongoing we continue evaluating the social workers who must not abandon their university studies."

Source: By Yailín Orta Rivera, Juventud Rebelde

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