In Sololá, life is slow and tranquil. Strangers greet one another in passing while children walk to and from school. While where we live is a far cry from the grim stereotypes that all to often color ideas of this country, it's important to acknowledge the traces of truth that lay at the root of these negative impressions. Though our work doesn't take place in Guatemala City, the struggles there are real and deserve the same recognition as our encounters in the mountains. Only in capturing both sides can we paint a full portrait of Guatemala. Here, Jared Stepp shares about the dire public transportation situation in the capital city:
Guatemala City is written up as one of the most dangerous cities in Central America due mainly to gang violence. However, the government and several independent companies have recently been making an effort to identify specific problems and work out solutions. One of the biggest problems a middle to lower class resident of Guatemala City faces is bus transportation. The bus business in Guatemala City is a fierce one, but there's progress on the horizon. Armed guards were hired starting in January 2011 to stop any kind of violence that may have occured towards the driver or the passengers. You might think it's a bit off-putting to see a man in a suit with a machine gun at the front of your bus, but here in Guatemala it's actually nice to know that that guy is there for your safety.
Another way in which they are trying to reduce crime on the buses is by switching from fares to ticket systems. This way crooks would know that the bus driver and his helper don't have a lot of quetzales in their pockets, and thus they wouldn't be worth robbing. The drivers would only have ticket papers that they would redeem. Guatemala City has already seen lowered crime rates on buses and the city plans to start implementing more of these routes before Christmas this year. They haven't fully figured our all the nuts and bolts but, local residents have responded positively to the news of this change.
I am also proud to say that Guatemala City, as of a week ago, has introduced women and children only buses on the main routes to address harassment concerns. The buses are now running during rush hours, nights, and early mornings. Though the bus drivers and security guards are still male, they are strict about the rest of the patrons. This idea stemmed from how well Mexico City's woman's only transit system is working. Personally, I'm hoping that this system stays in place and keeps the ladies and babies safe.
Overall, in the last two years the changes they've made in the transit system have significantly lowered transit-specific crimes and they hope that the future changes will continuing lowering it as well.
Looking forward to safer travels,