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REPORT 5 | MOBILITY: Users and carriers face the biggest crisis

HumVenezuela, May 2021.

The lack of fuel, the age of the vehicles and a destroyed road leave Venezuelans with few means of transportation. According to experts consulted by HumVenezuela, 70% of the vehicle fleet is out of service.

On January 13, the anesthesiologist Ángel Peña stopped breathing in Carora on suspicion of Covid. There was no ambulance with fuel to transfer him to a health center on time. He was, according to the United Doctors of Venezuela (MUV), the eleventh doctor who died from the virus in Lara state. 

In Venezuela, where fuel is scarce, a significant number of chronic patients and health personnel still do not have preferential access to subsidized service stations, explains the Venezuelan Fuel Council (Consecom) in its report.  

The lack of fuel permeates people’s lives on different levels, and can be perceived in many ways. The hours and even days that citizens spend in line at a gasoline pump. A patient who lost his life because the tanks of the vehicles were empty and could not be transferred to a health center. Crops that are lost due to lack of diesel to distribute them in the markets. The inevitable increase in cost of life in general terms, among other things due to the high price of fuel that leads to the parallel market. The paralysis of industries due to lack of diesel, including electricity generators, which affect all activities of daily life, but also generate deaths of people in operating rooms or intensive care units due to blackouts, to which is added lack of fuel in hospitals to light emergency plants. The lack of fuel also leads to corruption and the strengthening of crime, within the framework of a black market that feeds on citizen vulnerability.

The 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development states that all people should have access to safe, affordable, accessible and sustainable transport systems. And this includes road safety, mainly through the expansion of public transport, but it also involves access to rural roads, a challenge closely related to the incidence of poverty. According to the World Bank, there is a strong relationship between transport activity and economic development.

According to the CEDICE Public Services Monitor, seven out of 10 Venezuelans consider that fuel supply failures are affecting the development of the economy, generating price instability, shortages of some items and mobility difficulties. In its June 2021 services newsletter, it shows how “Twitter users reported their anxiety about the issue of fuel, which is causing the paralysis of public transport units and the crowding of people in stops to take the few vehicles available. Collateral effects that can trigger the spread of the coronavirus”.

As a sample of its social ravages, the data from Encovi 2019-2020 used in HumVenezuela to evaluate the impacts of the humanitarian emergency in the education sector, warned that before the Covid pandemic, more than 190 thousand children from 3 to 17 years old could not attend regularly to school due to lack of transportation.

Unofficial translation of the tweet: “@ReporteYA: #April30 #Merida #WithoutGasoline @leoperiodista: Merida in queue to try to get gasoline… Homeland

The hashtags #SinGasolina, #SinTransporte, #SinGasolinaVe have proliferated on Twitter. In social networks and in some digital media, photographs have been shown of people hanging hammocks in the street to sleep while their car is in a line that exceeds one kilometer. Or sellers of coffee, empanadas, malts and other spices. Sometimes, after standing in a long queue, when people get to the pump, the gas has run out or the charging mechanism does not work. This is warned by the Public Services Monitor: at least three times citizens have queued in vain, as gasoline runs out.

Unofficial translation of the tweet:@ReporteYa: #Apr #Zulia #WithoutGasoline @Jhormancruz1: Faced with the need for fuel, the Maracaibo funeral homes are letting each family take the ballot boxes “whatever it takes.” They have to pay $65 to open the hole. By the way, he ran out of gas.

But what’s the matter with fuel?

According to surveys by the Monitor of Public Services (a line of research by CEDICE’s Public Expenditure Observatory), at least eight out of 10 Venezuelans cannot stock up on gasoline without waiting in long lines or going through different service stations to fill their vehicles. The economist Raúl Córdoba, who leads this project, attributes the situation to the “economic and oil crisis that affects all sectors.” 

“Although in Caracas the time at the gasoline pumps ranges from 20 minutes to four hours, depending on the area where you are, the car you have or the area where it will be supplied, outside the capital city that time varies from two to 12 hours —Cordoba specifies. That, competitively speaking, is an indicator that keeps us far behind other countries where access to gasoline, as a basic mobility need, is covered almost immediately. We in Venezuela have no way of being able to supply quickly. We must, instead, use time from our day to day – which we should allocate to our development – and it is time that we subtract from productivity”.

There is no gasoline at the service stations, explains Córdoba, due to problems of distribution, service, production, refinement and sales. “And we have been experiencing many peaks, but this one in early 2021, is one of the lowest. According to the studies that we have carried out, 70% of the automobile fleet has problems getting fuel”. 

Unofficial translation of the tweet: “@ReporteyA: #May6 3:32 #Merida #WithoutGasoline @leoperiodista: The triple lines of vehicles reappeared again to try to refill gasoline. The space for the circulation for vehicles is reduced in Av Los Próceres, channel going up

In the eight pumps that supply transporters in Caracas, drivers of municipal routes must queue up to 24 hours, and only supply 40 liters, although the capacity of these vehicles is from 120 to 130, and they must pay five dollars for increase the quota, alerted the United Front of Transport for Venezuela on March 17 to Efecto Cocuyo. And, according to the Front of Oil Workers Breaking Chains, in Venezuela there were 1,786 service stations, of which 176 were private and today only 25% of the total is working, said its leader Luis Hernández.

The Citizen Council for Fuel of the Anti-Corruption Coalition, between September and December 2020, monitored the dispatch of fuel in 100 service stations in the nine municipalities of Lara state, Nelson Freites, Consecom coordinator, told HumVenezuela. The investigation was based on the schedule published by the Lara Government during that period. The results showed that the authorities privileged the dispatch of gasoline in the service stations reserved only for public officials, security forces and vehicles for official use, which received 23,400 liters of gasoline, and the Premium ones, which obtained between 37,000 and 74,000 liters, while a subsidized one received only 9,800 or 13,600 liters of gasoline.

In theory there is still a gasoline with subsidy, paid in bolivars for those who want, but those gas stations have peak and plate restrictions, identity number or limit of 20 liters. The queues are overwhelming and some service stations only accept cash, practically already nonexistent in Venezuela. Those who wish to rely on these stations should avoid all these challenges, as well as the illicit trade of that subsidized fuel at the price of skinny chicken and sold in the black market in dollars.

Alfredo Espinoza, 80, a retired UCV professor, with a salary of no more than five dollars, cannot access the subsidy because his fingerprints have been erased and the “fingerprint pickup” system rejects it. And there is no way to fix it.

Outraged users

Affected by a Complex Humanitarian Crisis, the population has taken to the streets to protest public services. In 2020, the eastern region stood out, according to figures from the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict (OVCS), for the demonstrations for gasoline, led by the states of Sucre (923) and Anzoátegui (829). It was followed by the Andean states Mérida (774) and Táchira (684). In the south of the country, in Bolívar state, there were 633. And, in January only in 2021, 51 protests took place throughout the national territory to demand a better supply of fuel.

The Petroleum Workers Front reported that in 2002 Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) had an average daily crude production that ranged from 3.4 million to 3.6 million barrels of oil, but that today 120 thousand barrels are being produced in the West and 100 thousand in the east. That is to say, 129 thousand barrels in total, and that, certainly, there are three million barrels in storage.

In relation to gasoline, for 2002 it was known that the Paraguaná Refining Complex produced 940 thousand barrels per day, 290 thousand barrels and 140 thousand barrels a day in Puerto La Cruz, for a total of 1,170,000 b/d between the five refineries. Today, according to oil-related unions, the Cardón refinery produces 50 thousand barrels. Although efforts have been made to build the El Palito plant, it has not managed to produce more than 30 thousand barrels. The Puerto La Cruz Cryogenic plant is completely paralyzed and the Amuay and Bajo Grande refineries are also inactive.

To start up the Paraguaná Refining Complex, which includes the Cardón, Amuay and Bajo Grande plants, according to Luis Hernández, an oil union leader, 20 to 15 billion dollars are needed in addition to clean energy. The electrical problems, however, are serious enough.

Without diesel, production shrinks

Venezuela entered the third decade of the 21st century without diesel, the fuel used to transport heavy cargo, agricultural production, public transport, industrial production, and thermoelectric plants. There is a 60% deficit in the availability of food in Venezuela, which does not even exceed the 600 thousand of 1,102,000 tons required, according to experts, due to lack of diesel, according to the Consecom 2020 report.

Field stoppage, crop losses, reduction of plantings, return to animal traction and increased cost of freight and food prices has been the consequence of a shortage that experts had been announcing since the end of 2020.

Unofficial translation of the tweet: “@ReporteYa: #Apr30 #WhithoutGasoline #Coro @soypetitygarcia: Gandolas need up to 800 liters of diesel, but they only have access to 150 a day. According to testimonies, GNB is the one who decides the amount of liters allowed. They ensure that there is always diesel.

Unofficial translation of the cited tweet:@soypetitygarcia: From the El Paraíso service station in La Vega, drivers of heavy cargo transport denounce that the black market of diesel has a price of up to 30 dollars for 200 liters.

‘We are the ones who move the country, we are the ones who suffer the most,’ they say.

The states most affected by the shortage of diesel are Lara, Zulia, Portuguesa, Yaracuy, Guárico, Barinas, Táchira and Apure, according to the Confederation of Associations of Agricultural Producers of Venezuela (Fedeagro), the National Federation of Cattlemen (Fedenaga) , the Venezuelan Institute of Milk and Meat (Invelecar) and the Venezuelan Confederation of Industrialists (Conindustria). 

The items at risk, according to these organizations, are precisely those with the highest national demand: sugar, coffee, legumes, rice and corn. In 2020, agricultural production contracted by 30% and up to 70 thousand tons of food were lost per month. Milk production, which had already fallen by 15%, is being allocated 70% to the production of cheeses to prevent it from decomposing, according to figures from the Venezuelan Chamber of the Dairy Industry (Cavilac). Oilseed production is also compromised, because the harvesting processes are mechanical and, if there is no diesel, there is no work.

In Guarico state, the distribution of livestock and cheese to consumption centers was paralyzed since March 2021 due to the shortage of diesel, which makes the mobility of transport units almost impossible. According to the estimates of the livestock union, about 25 thousand barrels of diesel are required a day, while the dairy industry needs 2,500 and the meat sector no less than 2,000 a day.

The food safety specialist and director of NGO Ciudadanía en Acción, Edison Arciniega, told Crónica Uno that in March the availability of food in the country would fall due to the lack of diesel. In addition, he estimated that seven out of 10 trucks that move food were stopped for that reason.

Also the lack of Diesel affects public transport. The secretary general of the United Front of Transportation in Aragua state, José Luis Trocel, reported on March 10, 2021 that 95% of the fleet is paralyzed due to fuel shortages. He said that the units that are in circulation run on gasoline and no longer have enough to cover all urban and interurban routes. Meanwhile, users make long lines at the Central Terminal of Maracay to be able to board the transport.

Cities become rural areas

Knowing the situation of roads in different urban areas is another way to approach the problem of mobility and, from the point of view of Córdoba, from the CEDICE Public Services Monitor, this is another sign of inequalities in Venezuela. Roads that are not properly paved are classified as rural and those that are paved are urban, but there is a big difference in the quality of urban and rural roads. The problem is that in Venezuela 20% of the road communication networks are not paved and are part of the cities. “For example, Maracaibo, Valencia, Barcelona, Puerto la Cruz, Anaco, Cumaná, Nueva Esparta, are cities that should be classified as cities, but as they have some important percentages of unpaved areas, the indicator tells you that they are areas that at the moment do not meet the requirements. Then they fall into the category of rural”.

Within the quality indicator, Córdoba explains, the Public Services Monitor takes into account the continuity of the road and, if it does not present plastic or structural cracks, it is said that the pavement meets the safety requirements for traffic. “In Venezuela there is a structural or physical failure every four kilometers, that is, if we have a 60 thousand kilometer road, at least a third of that part is damaged or has some phase damaged”.

Data analyst Lisa Troconis Reiners showed the results of a survey conducted through the Premise Data application of 14,693 public transport users, between July 2020 and February 2021. The research covers urban, peri-urban areas and cities of the Anzoátegui states, Apure, Bolívar, Distrito Capital, Lara, Miranda, Sucre, Táchira and Zulia, and is based on accessibility and mobility, in addition to other variables that impact its quality and use.

More than half of the people surveyed, according to the report entitled The Mobility of Venezuelans in Crisis, are professionals. Another 43% are in secondary and technical education: “a productive population in need of mobility”. The report points out that unemployment increased from eight percent to 10% in the last six months of 2020. And it points out that the economic crisis, the low number of public transport units and the infrequency of routes, in addition to the limitations in certain areas due to transport schedules are some of the reasons for these changes.

In most of the states surveyed, people said it took 15 to 30 minutes to get to work or home by public transportation. But in Anzoátegui (33%), Capital District (38%) and Miranda (34%) the time allocated is 30 minutes to an hour per trip. The distance that a user walks from their home to the bus stop varies according to the state, and ranges from 500 meters to more than 2 kilometers.

In reference to security, the inhabitants of Anzoátegui, Bolívar, Distrito Capital, Sucre, Lara, Miranda Táchira and Zulia feel unsafe to use public transport, either due to the condition of the vehicles, robberies, overcrowding or the possibility of contagion with Covid-19. But they still have to use it.

The depressed economic conditions in Venezuela force citizens to go out to the streets, despite Covid-19, although it is not possible to go from one municipality to another without safe conduct. At least 50% of the population must work outside their homes, and that requires the fleet to function, at least at 30% of its capacity. But fuel problems and the high cost of parts and tires mean that only 10% of carriers go to work. The source is not very clear.

Raúl Cordoba explains: “20 years ago, whoever had a car in Venezuela could maintain it, and whoever used a bus could use it as often as necessary, with the proper quality and in the required time. Those who used the metro system considered it to be of high quality, meeting the expectations of frequency, movement and capacity”. Now, “We know that there are not enough transport units in Venezuela to cover the demand,” explains the economist, and reflects on the fact that such a situation does not exist in Latin American countries. “In Chile, 82% of citizens can move optimally through its two or three transfer alternatives. The other 18% have some drawbacks or fewer mobility alternatives, but meet quality expectations. In Venezuela only 13% of citizens are lucky enough to be able to move effectively and covering all indicators: frequency, quality, and coverage. If I go to the closest avenue to my house and I do not have the possibility of connecting with other avenues, other road arteries in a short time, the indicator begins to say that you do not have the required mobility, that you do not have the corresponding elements to move from one point to another and the indicator lags begin”, he concludes.

The President of Transportes Unidos de Venezuela, Hugo Ocando says that Venezuela has the oldest vehicle fleet in Latin America, and that the law says that public transport vehicles must have a useful life of five to ten years. But according to the census that this organization is doing, there are units from 1977 circulating.

José Sayago, spokesman for the United Transportation Front for Venezuela, told Efecto Cocuyo that the shortage of diesel reduced the supply of public transport vans to 14% and that only 600 units circulate in Caracas.

In the context of Covid-19, public transport in Venezuela has become a source of spread. People hanging from the entrance tube in crowded buses are an image that says a lot – and badly – of the situation of economic poverty in Venezuela.

The lack of a decent transportation system – one that is safe, accessible, comfortable, punctual and covers the entire geography – is not only a symptom but also a generator of poverty. That Valencia, the third most important city in Venezuela has an 80% stoppage due to lack of spare parts and fuel, is one more expression of the Venezuelan Complex Humanitarian Emergency.

While PDVSA promises to raise crude production to three million barrels a day, Venezuelans watch how the bus is passing them.