Cubans Turn To Electric transportation when less petrol is available
On the streets of Havana, there’s a new sight: an increasing number of electric vehicles zooming among the old American cars that have become synonymous with the Cuban capital.
Cubans are turning to smaller, cheaper plug-in alternatives as fuel shortages and US sanctions take their toll, and electrical generation can be unreliable.
“Gasoline? Imagine. After 50 years of battling for it, I don’t even want to smell it!” cab driver Sixto Gonzalez, 58, told AFP from atop his gleaming, electric-blue quadricycle, which travels at a top speed of roughly 40 kilometers (25 miles) per hour.
Gonzalez has given up his old gasoline-powered car, one of approximately 600,000 registered on the island of 11.2 million inhabitants, according to government figures.
He waited in line for eight hours the previous time he tried to fill it up.
The vast majority of automobiles in Cuba are American models from the 1950s, prior to the imposition of sanctions, and tiny Ladas from the Soviet era.
Newer models are nearly tough to come by and cost anything from $20,000 and $100,000.
By instance, the quadricycle Gonzalez purchased costs between $4,000 and $8,000 and can transport four or five persons from point A to point B.
Electric motorcycles, of which there are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 in Cuba, and three-wheelers, which are increasingly seen hauling a carriage full of passengers, are also becoming more popular.
Museum on wheels
About 100 workers from the business Minerva construct electric vehicles with parts sourced from China or Vietnam in a once-abandoned Soviet-era truck factory in Santa Clara’s capital city.
Minerva boss Elier Perez told AFP that the factory’s goal for 2022 is to build 10,000 electric motorcycles, doubling the previous record, as well as 2,000 three-wheelers.
“I had to buy one since the gas ran out and the lines were forever,” Raul Suarez, a 52-year-old security guard who purchased an electric motorcycle, explained.
“I need to be able to navigate.”
Not only are automobiles extremely expensive and rare, but for many residents of the capital, public transportation is a daily nightmare.
According to transport ministry spokesman Guillermo Gonzalez, half of the buses are out of service due to a scarcity of tires and batteries that cannot be supplied due to US sanctions.
Havanans often wait for hours for a bus to take them to work or home.
Meanwhile, fuel shortages have deteriorated since the United States intensified its six-decade-old economic blockade of Cuba in 2019, prohibiting fuel tankers from arriving from Venezuela, a Cuban ally.
According to Jorge Pinon, a Cuban energy policy expert at the University of Texas, gasoline supplies fell from 100,000 barrels per day to around 56,000 barrels per day on average in 2021.
The government began promoting the usage of electric automobiles three years ago, introducing them to state-owned enterprises to be used by employees.
“Cuban is a museum on wheels,” Gonzalez added, referring to the plethora of decades-old gas guzzlers.
It is envisaged that the introduction of electric vehicles will cut “fuel usage… while also reducing pollution,” he added.
Like a fridge
However, electricity availability is also a worry.
Cubans have been dealing with regular power outages for weeks, sometimes lasting hours at a time, due to generator failures and thermoelectric plant maintenance.
In order to compensate for the deficit, officials have turned to generators, which consume a large portion of the restricted diesel supply.
“There has never been a scenario as tough as the one we have today, and summer is still three months away,” Pinon added, referring to the annual spike in demand for electricity to run air conditioning during the summer.
The head of strategy at Cuba’s energy ministry, Ramses Calzadilla, expressed confidence that electricity generation will be restored to full capacity soon and stressed that the situation did not pose a threat to the country’s expanding electric vehicle industry.
He told AFP that an electric motorcycle uses approximately the same amount of energy as a refrigerator and can be charged fast and cheaply in between scheduled power outages.