Due to its extreme levels of informality, crowdedness, and countless unwritten rules, Lima’s public transportation system can be overwhelming for newcomers, or even for many Limeños themselves. With that in mind, I’ve gathered the things I’ve learned over a semester into this photo essay to facilitate the learning process.
Why so Chaotic?
This can be attributed to the fact that the majority of public transport vehicles in Lima operate informally despite sporting the patterned paint job of a parent company. Because the law is very liberal on vehicle standards, many if not most of the vehicles in the system are highly outdated and constantly in need of repair. Additionally, because the choferes (drivers) typically rent or purchase the vehicle and then are allowed to keep the funds they earn in a day after paying a set amount to the parent company, they and the cobradores (fare collectors) have a significant incentive to take as many passengers as possible to maximize their income, increasing existing crowding on public transportation with the infinite “room for one more.”
Although a small fleet of municipal buses have recently been launched running limited routes in addition to a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, the Metropolitano, and an elevated railway, the Metro, the more informal options are still the backbone of public transportation in Lima and can take you to any part of the city.
Finding Your Route
In the first week in particular, finding the best way to get to school from your home stay can make your head spin. IFSA Peru will show you one way to arrive utilizing larger buses to accommodate the entire group but thatwill require making a bus transfer, and figuring out where exactly to get off and where to get the next bus can be overwhelming. However, there will also be other options that might take you directly from near your homestay to PUCP. So, ask your host families or IFSA Peru about other options. Additionally, an app called TuRuta works particularly well to show all of the different routes to move across the city while Google Maps, for instance, doesn’t help. But, as a general rule: when in doubt, ask! Because the system is so crazy and complicated, even Limeños constantly have to ask for directions. Don’t waste time avoiding asking for help when you could ask someone in a shop, a security guard, or even someone else at the bus stop which bus can get you where you need to go and where you can catch it.
One confusing part of commuting can be simply finding a bus stop. The most common paradero throughout Miraflores and San Isidro where homestays are located is a blue sign reading PARADERO and showing an image of a bus as appears behind the shelter in the first photo, though the shelter itself is rare to see. Yet, very often, either no sign will be present or passengers will simply choose to wait at a different spot along the sidewalk, like in the second photo, from where they wave down their bus. Choferes when working solo and especially Cobradores will often yell out the major avenues or stops they run as they pass a group of awaiting passengers. When in doubt, you can shamelessly ask them if they pass where you need to go as Limeños themselves do. Another good giveaway of a paradero is the presence of a datero, seen in the third picture with his clipboard. In exchange for a few cents, dateros track how many minutes pass between passes of vehicles on the same route and how many passengers enter. They are present at many more established bus stops.
Bus Etiquette and Pro Tips
To pay, only on some larger buses and the municipal buses will you have to pay the driver or swipe a card and pass through a turnstile. Most of the time, as in the accompanying picture, you should take your seat upon entering the vehicle and the cobrador will at some point come to you and charge you the fare.
When there isn’t a cobrador working, you’re hear the chofer yell out “Pasajes adelante,” meaning to pay him directly. The fare is distance based and for short trips should be fifty cents to one sol and longer trips will be fifty cents for every additional main avenue passed.
The inside of a combi or couster, as this slightly larger version is specifically referred to as, appears as such, with the most coveted seating along the window to the left.
There is also commonly seating facing inward towards the front of the bus as well as a passenger seat, in which you are required to buckle your seatbelt or appear to have it buckled so the chofer can avoid being fined. Usually you will have to climb into and out of the front seat from inside the vehicle and not use the passenger door.
On public transportation in general, you will see many sleeping passengers who have timed their nap schedules to wake up perfectly as they arrive to their destination. While it isn’t recommended that you attempt to imitate them as you may likely miss your stop, you could end up unintentionally developing this Limeño skill as well.
It is also a constant occurrence that people selling food, asking for charity, or performing will get on the buses, such as the young man singing in the picture.
When you need to get off, you should yell “Baja!” and the vehicle will stop at the next stop for you. If you’re not sure when to get off, you can ask another passenger or ask the cobrador or motorista, “Pásame la voz cuando llegamos a [tal sitio], por favor.”
On larger buses, there will often be buttons to alert the chofer you would like to get off at the next stop (pictured in the final photo), although still sometimes you will need to yell “Baja!” if you’re afraid the bus might not stop.
Chris Harden is an International Affairs student at George Washington University and studied abroad with IFSA at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima, Peru, in Spring 2019. He is an International Correspondent for IFSA through the Work-to-Study Program.