Havana's bustling streets offer a wide variety of transportation options. In the old city overcrowded public buses and state-owned yellow taxis (usually Soviet-era Ladas or more recent Korean and Japanese imports) jostle with bicycle taxis, horse-drawn carriages, and cocotaxis—three-wheeled mopeds where the two rear passenger seats are half-enclosed in a garish yellow coconut-shaped plastic shell.
But many foreign visitors, particularly Americans, are fascinated by the ubiquity of the 1950s American cars roaring up and down the city's main thoroughfares. A few of these classics, painstakingly restored in bright blue, pink or white, serve as open-top touring cars for hire, operated by multilingual guides who offer a trip back in time to experience a bit of the romance of pre-Revolutionary Havana.
The vast majority of the old behemoths, however, fill a much humbler, though more important, niche, playing an essential role in the city's transportation network. These are the taxis colectivos, commonly known simply as máquinas, the uniquely Cuban collective taxis with a form and function that embodies much of the best and the worst of recent Cuban history.
During the so-called "Special Period" of hardship after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, fiscal austerity and shortages of fuel and vehicles forced the communist government to cut the state-subsidized network of city buses and individual taxis, the latter of which used to take a passenger across town for a few Cuban pesos. Public buses continue to service regular routes around the city at the rock-bottom price of 40 Cuban centavos (less than $.02). But individual state taxis charge 5-10 convertible pesos ($5-$10) for a cross-town ride, well beyond the reach of most Cubans in a country where the state salary even for professionals seldom exceeds $30 per month. So for Cubans whose schedule and destination make the city buses inconvenient, but who lack access to the convertible-currency economy, a demand emerged for a means of transport that bridged the gap between the affordability of the public buses and the frequency and convenience of the individual taxis.
In a setback to Brazil’s preparations for the 2014 World Cup, Federal Judge Louise Vilela Filgueiras Borer ordered an immediate halt to the construction of a third terminal at São Paulo’s main international airport. São Paulo-Guarulhos International Airport, which was recently ranked the worst in Latin America, was undergoing a renovation to double the airport’s capacity in advance of the World Cup as well as the 2016 Olympic Games.
Judge Filgueiras said the state airport authority Empresa Brasileira de Infraestrutura Aeroportuária, or Infraero, jettisoned a formal bidding process for the project and awarded the contract to Delta Constructions. In her ruling, Filgueiras wrote that the move represented a worrying precedent in Brazil—one which ignored regulations in the interest of finishing a project as soon as possible. The project was estimated to cost 1.2 billion reais ($700 million).
An April 2011 report from the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (Institute for Applied Economic Research, or Ipea) warned that 10 of the 13 Brazilian airport terminals being upgraded throughout the country were not on track for completion by the start of the World Cup in June 2014. President Dilma Rousseff is now evaluating an option to rely on temporary, warehouse-like modules to accommodate the expected passenger influx for the Cup.
This is not the first setback for Brazil’s transportation authorities. In July, Alfredo Nascimento, former minister of transportation, resigned on allegations of corruption for so-called “irregularities” in the granting of contracts.
After nearly two decades of tension and ongoing dispute, the United States Department of Transportation yesterday announced the signing of an agreement that will allow U.S. and Mexican trucks to freely transport goods anywhere across the nearly 2,000-mile long U.S.-Mexico border. The new accord formalizes an agreement announced in March by Presidents Calderón and Obama and marks the end of one of the largest commercial disputes to arise between the two countries since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into force in 1994.
An immediate effect of the new accord will be the removal by Mexico of nearly $2.4 billion worth of punitive tariffs that it imposed in 2010 in response to a U.S. court ruling that prohibited Mexican trucks from transporting goods within the United States. According to a statement by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, "the agreements…are a win for roadway safety and they are a win for trade."
The accord resolves numerous safety concerns, which had stymied earlier efforts to conclude negotiations. Mexican trucks will be required to use electronic systems that monitor hours of service and routes and Mexican drivers will be required to take tests that gauge their understanding of English and ability to read traffic signs.
Pro-business groups, which had lobbied hard on behalf of the agreement, responded swiftly to yesterday’s news: "This is a vital program to our region's competitiveness that will foster greater security and increase efficiency at our border, while reducing the cost of business in our region, which ultimately benefits consumers with lower prices," said Kyle Burns, president and CEO of the Free Trade Alliance San Antonio.