As a volunteer in an urban site, I ride buses, or colectivos, a LOT. Some facts about bus riding here in Asunción metropolitan area:
- At a cost of 2300 Gs (approx. fifty cents), this is the cheapest amusement park ride you can get.
- There is no public transportation system; that is, all of the bus lines are run by 63 distinct private companies. You love the free market? Come on down. For one, this means that while there are plenty of buses that run the routes with the most demand (from nearby cities straight into downtown), there are few that connect the various centers of the city outside of downtown. Also, since the bus companies are trying to maximize profit, the incentive of the bus is to fit as many paying customers as it can into the bus and dodge in front of other buses–their competition–when they are on the main roads. Usually the customer doesn’t have any choice of which company to take (as each company runs a different route) so bus companies don’t have to worry about disgruntled customers switching to another service–they’re stuck.
- Another problem of the privatization arises when one company owns multiple lines and this leads to unnecessary confusion. For example, line 15. The brand behind the line 15 owns a few different routes, so they are named the 15-1, the 15-2, the 15-3, and the 15-4. Each of these routes are distinct and overlap very little. I use the 15-3 to get to the Peace Corps office. Imagine my surprise the first week, I get on the 15-3, ask the driver to clarify that the bus is going where I want it to go, and he says no! Well, this happens twice, and I assume the directions I was given are wrong, or the 15-3 no longer runs the route that it used to run, or something is off. After much confusion, I find out that there are TWO different bus routes that are both named the 15-3. What?! Why they wouldn’t just make a 15-5 line is beyond me. This experience leads to the next important point about buses:
- Each bus puts up a little sign in its window listing important streets/points of interest that it will pass so that you know what route it will take. Knowing where these important landmarks are in the city is crucial for figuring your way around on a bus. Or you at least must know how to ask the lady selling chipa how to get to where you want to go.
- Of the 2194 buses that circulate Asunción area, 1558 (71%) are between 14 and 20 years old. In 13 of the 63 companies, the majority of their buses are considered “scrap metal” (“estado de chatarra“) (source).
- From my own observation, it seems as though a lot of the buses are from neighboring Argentina or Brazil, and most likely did not pass the safety inspections in those countries.
All that being said, I love riding in buses! That is, when I can get a seat and it’s not too hot, which actually does happen sometimes, especially because I get on my Fernando de la Mora bus near the beginning of its route. My favorite part, and one benefit of having private companies in charge of bus lines, is the designs painted on all of the buses differentiating each company from the other. I love the colorful styles that each company uses, and I’ve created a semi personality in my mind for each bus line.