Sustainable transport systems: learning from Cuba

Warren, James (2009). Sustainable transport systems: learning from Cuba. In: Wilson, Gordon; Furniss, Pamela and Kimbowa, Richard eds. Environment, Development, and Sustainability: Perspectives and cases from around the world. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, pp. 54–64.



Cuba offers a unique perspective as a case study of sustainable transport prac¬tices. Although the country has many characteristics similar to other developing nations, it is alone in the fact that it has endured one of the longest economic blockades in recent history. Since 1960, Cuba has faced enormous pressures from its nearest potential trading partner (the United States) due to the blockade, which has caused innumerable problems in all sectors of the economy. Cuba has endured a huge decrease in transport investment and oil imports due to a long-standing economic Blockade and the collapse of the Former Soviet Union (FSU). This chapter examines the effect of the blockade and the collapse of the FSU on the transport sector. These events have led to a transformation in how goods and people are moved, not least because of a huge reduction in the amount of hard currency available to pay for fuel, vehicles, and spare parts but also due to consequential changes in society.

These societal changes resulted in a number of innovative behavioural and technologi¬cal outcomes both in transport and in food production, biotechnology, literacy, medical training and practice. This chapter describes, therefore, the sustainable transport practices which have stemmed not only from the situation in Cuba but also from the ingenuity of the Cubans in their own approaches to mobility. The islanders have had to invent novel ways of achieving mobility by creating a new mass transit system (camel buses) and formalizing car-sharing. By shifting to higher vehicle occupancies, using more public transport, and encouraging more walking and cycling, Cuba exemplifies sustainable transport practices.

The chapter closes with some more speculative ideas about how the transport sector might develop in the future and the challenges it faces in terms of sustainability.

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