Buses of Curitiba

Curitiba, Brazil, implemented the world’s first bus rapid transit system in the 1970s. Along with programs to convert floodplains to green space, pedestrianize downtown streets, and improve waste collection, the new “surface metro” transformed the city. Curitiba is the inspiration for many of the other BRT projects I learned about during my year of travel, so a visit there was perfect for my last stop.

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Trolleybuses of Valparaíso

Valparaíso’s electric trolleybuses are an iconic part of the city and were even included in the city’s petition for UNESCO World Heritage Site status. A significant portion of the fleet was manufactured by Pullman in the United States in the late 1940s.

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Patagonia Bus Marathon

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Traveling the 1400 miles from Ushuaia to Viedma took about 37 hours by bus. The first leg was especially slow given the four border posts (for the short stretch of the trip in Chilean territory) and the ferry ride over the Strait of Magellan. I took a couple hours to walk around Río Gallegos and stayed for one night in Comodoro Rivadavia to break up the rest of the trip. Traveling in coche cama, which includes food, drinks, and bed-like seats was a treat. I also enjoyed the expansive views of the pampas and seeing some guanacos.

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Manejar un Diablo Rojo | Driving a Red Devil

Bus Music Videos

I found a frequently running TV commercial for a local Nicaraguan radio station to be quite interesting. The commercial opened with a scene of a crowd of people waiting at a bus stop, looking frustratedly at their watches (a situation that most Managuans can easily identify with). A new Kurgansky Avtobusny Zavod bus finally pulls up, and the petulant passengers board and sit down. The bus driver then turns up the volume for the advertised radio station, and the passengers start smiling and dancing happily in the aisle.

The use of the bus in the commercial was interesting enough, but I decided to do a bit more research on the song to which the passengers were dancing. The song, which I also heard on some of my daily microbus commutes from Ticuantepe to Managua, was Juan Luis Guerra’s “Bachata en Fukuoka.” Yes, that’s Fukuoka, Japan – the lyrics include the “kon’nichi wa,” “ohayō gozaimasu,” and “arigatō gozaimasu.”

To sum up, I was watching a Russian-made bus in a commercial for a Nicaraguan radio station that used a Dominican artist’s song that includes the Japanese in the lyrics, and for which the official music video has shots of the Los Angeles skyline and the Metro Gold Line. As David Harvey writes, “collage and eclecticism have recently come to dominate” in contemporary music (The Condition of Postmodernity, p. 301). The song’s music video (which also happens to involve people sitting on a bus) exemplifies the “depthlessness…in a whole new culture of the image or the simulacrum.” The split-second clips of freight locomotives along the Los Angeles River or Japanese characters on a storefront have nothing to do with their actual significance or meaning, but are instead used just as images.

I couldn’t find the Nicaraguan commercial online, but here is the official “Bachata en Fukuoka” music video:

The “Bachata en Fukuoka” video’s various transportation mode are nothing compared to the buscentricity of another one of Juan Luis Guerra’s songs from this year, “La Guagua” (“The Bus”). The refrain of the song can be translated as “Shift into gear and straighten it out | so that the bus will go in reverse!…| Bring me the maraca and give me a party | so that the bus will go in reverse!” The majority of the music video (embedded below) was filmed on a 1980s Blue Bird All American FE. Highlights include the bus driving backwards through the countryside, the driver eating spaghetti and shaving behind the wheel, a cow with 3-D glasses, a trombonist wearing an I ♥ Fukuoka shirt (in reference to the previously discussed song), and the climactic scene of party-goers at a concert for which the stage’s background is the silhouette of the back of a school bus. I’m not sure why Juan Luis Guerra is so interested in buses, but I’ll take the music videos for these two songs (both of which were on A Son de Guerra, the 2010 Latin Grammy Best Album) as a sign that buses figure prominently in the collective consciousness of Latin America.

Crazy Bus Drivers Cross Flooded River

Enjoy the video above (filmed by someone other than me about 30 miles from where I spent my first night in Nicaragua). Note that the sound is a bit loud, and that if you’re reading my blog through your email, you may need to click on the title of the post above to view it on my website.

As the rainy season has followed me through south through Central America, I’ve managed to avoid landslides, downed bridges, and (completely) crazy drivers. I’ve heard of school bus drivers making it through some rough weather, but these buses seem to be taking an unnecessary risk. La Prensa reports on the government’s response:

The Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure (MTI) warned that it could suspend the concessions of companies that put the lives of passengers in danger, as was evident in a video captured of various public transportation vehicles crossing the flooded Coco River, in Quilalí, Nueva Segovia, during the recent rains…
Authorities from MTI’s Ground Transport Department noted yesterday that whatever company operates service in the country and puts the lives of users in danger can be subject to heavy sanctions and its operating permits can be suspended indefinitely.

This is probably a harsher response than would normally be expected. The video hits a bit to close to home for Nicaragua, which is mourning for five Red Cross workers and a journalist who were killed in a flash flood while trying to bring supplies to a community isolated by the rains.

Transmetro – BRT in Guatemala City

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The week I arrived in Guatemala City, the municipality initiated service on the new Corredor Central (shown in green in the map above) of its Transmetro bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The city’s first line, Transmetro Sur (shown above in orange), opened in 2007 and was also the first BRT line in Central America. The municipality is continuing to expand on these two existing lines, with hopes of eventually replacing the old red school buses on many of the city’s most crowded routes.

Unlike many of the so-called BRT systems in the United States, the Transmetro has many characteristics of high quality transit, including prepaid fares, multiple boarding doors, level platform loading at enclosed stations, and well-enforced exclusive right of way (for most stretches). I’m not sure if traffic signal prioritization has been implemented, but at some intersections along the routes, officers directing traffic essentially served as signal preemption. The first line uses 160-passenger Busscar Urbanuss Plus articulated buses on Ciferal and Volvo chassis, while the new Corredor Central uses 119-passenger Busscar Urbanuss models on Scania chassis. Having police officers at each station and on each bus greatly improves boarding efficiency and security over the old red buses. The Transmetro Sur even has a mix of local and express services. In short, for the same fare as the old red school buses (about 12¢), the Transmetro is a much safer and more pleasant transportation experience.

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Buses of Guatemala City

Red Type D transit-style buses, many of which have Blue Bird bodies, form the core of Guatemala City’s bus system. Interurban Type C conventional buses interface with the main urban routes at nodes throughout the city. See, for example, the aerial picture of Trébol below. About twelve Route 57 buses are queued along the overpass at the bottom of the picture. A couple blocks up, more than twenty intercity buses are queued along the street. When I walked through here to catch a bus to Antigua, the honking intercity buses were all constantly creeping forward. Boarding passengers had to navigate the crowd of people, scan the headsigns for their destinations, and jump onto the appropriate bus all while trying to avoid being run over.

The municipal government is starting to introduce a new bus rapid transit system (in which the buses actually come to a complete stop for boarding and about which more will be posted soon), but implementation is fairly slow, and the old red buses are sure to be around for a while.

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