Someone once told me that the buses (colectivos) of Buenos Aires are like old men in a bar—loud, smoky and rough around the edges, but dependable—they always show up, usually in no time at all.
My first experience—Bus 152 from Palermo across town to La Boca—couldn’t have lived up to my expectation any more.
Despite that lack of a centrally-managed bus system, this is the transportation method of choice for hundreds of thousands of portenos every day. Why? Because the (lack of a) system works. Just don’t expect your every day modern conveniences, like air conditioning, a seat, or, oh, for the bus to actually come to a complete stop before you exit.
Yes, the experience can be harrowing to the newbie, but you’ll be surprised how quickly you catch on.
How to Ride
Here’s a few tips to make your acclamation easier:
- Map Your Course: Unless you’ve got a good local friend to explain it to you, you’ll likely need your Guia T to figure out the best way to get to where you’re going (because you’ll likely have several choices). More on this later!
- Know Where Your Bus Stops: This seems easy enough by recognizing the path your line takes, but not all bus lines serve each bus stop.
- Know Where Your Bus Goes: No, I’m not stating the obvious. Some bus lines in Buenos Aires have multiple routings—meaning the 24 can go one of three different ways. There is a little diagram of the routing on the front of the bus, so make sure you give it a glance or ask if in doubt!
- Flag Him Down: While there will likely be a queue of people at your stop, they may not all be waiting for the same bus as you, and the driver isn’t going to stop just because he sees people there. Make sure you wave when you see yours coming, and even then…
- Have a Short Memory: Life throws us all rejections sometimes. The best thing we can do is to forget about them and move on. The same applies to waiting for a bus in Buenos Aires. Just because the customer wants to get on the bus doesn’t mean the driver is going to stop—this is the Wild West of public buses! If it happens to you, fret not—there’s likely another bus coming soon.
- State Your Destination (or Fare, if you Know): Fares in BA are set by distance. Without a transit card (“Sube Card”), it’s likely going to cost you two pesos. Anyway, once you state where you’re going, the driver programs that into the machine where you…
- Pay Your Fare: Don’t come with bills—these machines only accept coins.
- Keep Your Ticket: As the fares do vary, it is possible that there will be someone checking tickets to make sure riders are paying the right fare. Given that fares don’t vary too much, it isn’t likely, but it does happen!
- Don’t Take the Priority Seating: Yes, people here actually abide (for the most part) by the sign that specifies priority seating for the elderly or pregnant. Don’t be that guy, or girl, unless you are that guy, or girl!
- Try Not to Fall Down!: As you may have inferred from Instruction #5, drivers here aren’t typically interested in being customer-friendly. In fact, some companies pay commissions based on passengers carried (yes, there are several different companies operating the 100-plus bus lines in BA), so these drivers are interested in speed above all! You may want to hang on tight, and when it’s time to exit…you may have to jump out while the bus is at a slow roll!
Hopefully that will help you the first time you cover the expanse of Buenos Aires…and don’t forget to enjoy the ride!