In my previous post, I went on at some length about the changing times in the airline industry. Ultra Low Cost Carriers (ULCC’s) will soon make their debut in Canada According to a Dec 1, 2017 article in McLean’s Magazine by Joe Costaldo, Cheap Flights are Finally Coming to Canada in 2018. “It’s a different model than what Canadians have seen before,” says Chris Murray, an airline analyst at AltaCorp Capital. Under the ‘new model’ airfare entitles you to a seat and nothing else – and, that seating will be cramped. Even a boarding pass will have a cost. The model works by stripping the cost out of the system.
Well, it turns out that while this transportation model might be new to the airline industry, we discovered that it is alive and well in the ground transportation industry in the Dominican Republic. An informal network of privately owned passenger vans called Guaguas (pronounced wag-was) ply the highway picking up and discharging passengers. You put out your arm if you want a ride, or yell “Dejame” loud and clear when you want off.
We’d planned a day trip from Cabarete to Puerto Plata, a distance of about 40km. On the morning of our departure, we stood on the roadside and waited for our Guagua. They don’t run on tight schedules but we didn’t have long to wait before a well-seasoned mini-van screeched to a hard stop and the sliding door flew open. Gagwas have a crew of two – the driver and the cobrador. The cobrador manages the door, determines the seating arrangements, and collects fares. When the van is full – and it is most of the time, the cobrador hangs out of the open door as the van hurtles along the narrow roads. Passing on either side is common practice, as is ignoring solid yellow lines. Speed limits? The few posted signs are largely ignored.
We negotiated the price before boarding; sixty pesos each (about $1.15 each – there were four of us). So, just under $5.00 compared to $27.00 for a taxi. Cheap, yes! Comfortable – not so much. No air conditioning either. Make sure you have exact change. Some cobradors aren’t that forthcoming.
The fare entitles you to a seat – at least part of one. My wife and I were directed to the back seat. There were already two people back there, so it was cozy. This particular mini-van was designed for twelve passengers. A few stops later, there were twenty packed in – including another person sent to join us in the back row. We were close, but the front couple of seats were much worse – people were shoehorned in and had to assume a variety of contorted positions. The front seat was particularly worrying. There were often four people up there with the driver. We weren’t sure how he was managing to shift gears, but he did, while still trying to break the land speed record.
Did I mention that the suspension wasn’t very good?
Guaguas are an important means of transportation for local people, and they don’t seem bothered by the over crowding; they banter and joke between themselves. I’m sure they get many laughs out of the antics of us ‘touristas’ The locals were always friendly and willing to help us to communicate with the cobrador about our destination.
If guaguas aren’t your thing, there are always other alternatives. A lift on a motorcycle is even cheaper than a guagua. The unusual part of this photo below is that the driver is wearing a helmet.