08 February, 2012

How to catch a bus / Como coger el bus

There are several steps necessary in order to reach the desired destination in Bogotá.

Firstly, one must work out which bus to catch.
This must be achieved without maps of any kind (street or bus). Helpfully, the buses have more than just a route number and destination on the front, in fact they have all the main zones/streets that the bus passes through on its way. Unhelpfully, the number (and most of the street numbers) are written very small, and in the wrong order (having had the basic layout of the city explained to me, I then spent a week believing I had misunderstood as I thought that the signs were in route order). To further the problem, most buses career along faster than the cars, meaning the signs are rather hard to make out. The easiest way to work out which bus you need is to go where you want to end up, then compare the buses that pass by to the buses that were passing your start point. Not kidding, that's what's been recommended to me. 

Once the problem of which bus to catch has been solved, next comes actually catching it. Thankfully this is far less complicated. Choose a currently unoccupied piece of kerb (although at rush hour in popular places this is harder than it sounds) or even (if the road is particularly wide) a spot in the road itself. Try to choose a place that is not on any corners, junctions, or traffic lights, but buses have been known to stop at all of the above, so fresca. When you see what you think is your bus hurtling towards you, stick your arm up as if saying 'hi' to a friend on the other side of the road. If the driver sees you (it amazes me that so far I haven't noticed any drivers pass by a potential passenger) he'll (I haven't seen any female drivers yet) screech to halt anywhere between right in front of you to 10-15 m down the road (jog to catch up, they don't wait long). If you realise it wasn't your bus after all, that's ok. The natives get it wrong too.

Boarding: check there are no oncoming motorcycles/cars/etc heading for the space between the bus and your spot on the kerb (on wide streets buses stop anywhere, although they usually try for a maximum of one lane away from you) and jump on (literally, the stairs are rather steep).

At this point you might afford yourself a moment of relaxation as you bask in the glory of your achievements so far/root around in your pocket for change. This is a serious error. Bus drivers do not wait for anything or anyone before they start moving again. If you have one hand inside the bus and one foot on the bus, then you are judged to be sufficiently 'on' the bus for it to be moving (at top speed). For this reason it is extremely important that you hold on to any available bar/handle/chair back/turnstile as tightly and as quickly as you can upon entering the bus. Do not, however, worry about being trapped in the closing doors as the bus moves off. Bus drivers can go for very long periods of time without feeling the need to close them.

Once you are in a secure enough position to worry about paying the driver (sitting down is recommended, or at the very least on the other side of the turnstile if there is one), you will need to pay in cash (no Oyster/travel cards here). The correct change is appreciated, but not necessary. If, however, the driver does not currently have enough/the right change, he'll tell you to wait. Be careful that you don't forget he owes you money. It's highly unlikely he will forget, but he will probably wait until you ask for it.

The payment process may take up to three full minutes and your patience is appreciated. While you are finding (approximately) the correct fare/waiting for your change and holding on for dear life, he will be:
  • making sure that everyone who got on is paying (including keeping track of who is paying for whom - group payments do not throw drivers off)
  • accelerating suddenly
  • braking suddenly
  • listening to and/or changing the radio
  • changing lanes
  • turning corners (make sure you're still holding on!)
  • calculating and finding the correct change
  • and probably waving and/or honking at a friend. 

And Colombians still say men can't multitask!

At this point you are free to find a seat, if you are not sitting already. It is worth noting, if only for amusement's sake, that Bogotanos do not take seats immediately after they are vacated. If, when you spot a seat it is empty, go for it. On the other hand, if you are replacing someone who has just vacated their seat, it is 'normal' to hover (either next to, standing up straight in front of, or halfway sitting down over the seat in question) for anywhere between 5 and 20 seconds (I have heard of, but not witnessed first hand, a full half minute). Excuses for this behaviour tend to be based around hygiene or vague avoiding-the-question statements along the lines of 'my mum told me not to.' If, for example, you want to claim a seat but can't risk someone with a shorter hovering time than you taking it (ie: me) feel free to put (throw) your bag on it (from halfway down the bus - I have to admit, he had very good aim).

Speaking of bags, on crowded buses it is normal for a seated passenger (usually male) to offer to take a standing passenger's (probably female, although I have seen it the other way round.. ok, it was me who offered.. I have no idea if that's a terrible faux pas or not...) bag/umbrella/etc. This is both polite and practical. The aisle is just wide enough for one person trying to get off the bus to squeeeeze past someone standing in the way. On a similar note, if you do find yourself standing in the aisle make sure you stand to/face one side of the bus, don't stand in the middle with one hand on each rail. Apparently that is a faux pas.

Once you are (un)comfortably in position (depending on the bus you may or may not be able to stand fully upright, if in doubt stay near the driver where there is a sun-roof, you also might not actually fit into the seats) you are probably there for the long haul. A short journey is about half an hour. During this time you may:

  • talk loudly on your mobile
  • talk loudly on your mobile but covering your mouth and the microphone with your hand (It doesn't work people! Why do you do it?)
  • text /BBM people
  • listen to an mp3 player (thankfully not at the same volume as in London)
  • listen to the driver's choice of radio station
  • talk loudly to your companion
  • fall asleep (very common)
  • stare out the window (try to change sides everyday to prevent neck cramps)

Alighting the bus: as there are no announcements you must remain alert as to where you are. Thankfully there is no danger of passing your stop, as, if you recall from hailing the bus, there are no stops. Make your way to the exit (on some buses this is located at the rear, on the smaller ones it is the same as the entrance). This may take some time if the bus is crowded and you are sitting at the wrong end. When you are coming up to your 'stop' press the button (either on the roof or a handrail near the door) and the bus driver will immediately open the doors (if they were closed) and slam on the brakes. Exiting the bus is henceforth as simple as one, two, three.

  1. Duck (don't be fooled by the stairs leading you down, the doorframe is also lower)
  2. Look right (for oncoming vehicles heading for the gap between the bus and the pavement, especially common if the bus is stopped at a green light)
  3. Mind the gap (between the bottom step and the road, usually about a foot)
With practice your timing will allow you to alight exactly outside your front door.

At this point I would like to mention an alternative method:
Give up and hail a taxi. It's not that expensive if you're here as a tourist, but I have to admit, it's a lot less fun :D

1 comment:

  1. I couldn't help laughing all day hahaha