If Venezuela had a bullet train…

VALENCIA, Venezuela (Reuters) – On a recent afternoon, a crowd of hundreds massed on the sidewalk outside an exit from the subway in the central Venezuelan city of Valencia.

But when a flatbed truck previously used to transport water bottles pulled up nearby, a ruthless scramble kicked off with pregnant women, parents holding toddlers and elderly Venezuelans all jostling to get themselves aboard.

In this once-thriving industrial city as in much of the country, public buses have gradually disappeared due to scarce or prohibitively expensive tires, motor oil, batteries and spare parts.

Cargo trucks of all shapes and sizes have taken their place, but most lack even basic safety protections for human cargo and are increasingly associated with accidents and injuries to passengers – a further sign of the deteriorating quality of life in the crisis-stricken country.

The “dog carts,” as they are informally known in Caracas, tend to squeeze standing passengers – mostly poor Venezuelans – into the backs of the large vehicles.

“It’s tough. I’m tired on the way there, tired on the way back, I feel terrible,” said exhausted homemaker Angelica Gomez, wiping sweat from her brow as she climbed into a flatbed truck with metal railings on the sides.

There are no exact records of how many cargo trucks circulate in different cities. Schedules and rates vary from one place to another as well.

Similar forms of transport have been common in developing countries and struggling economies in recent decades, but are rarely seen in oil-rich countries such as Venezuela. Other countries have also made an effort to provide safer public transit options.

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