Friday, February 1, 2013

Public Transportation in Ecuador

Quito has three main transport lines that run from north to south and come frequently. It costs 25 cents no matter how far you go. These buses—well, one is a trolley—have their own lanes and so can sometimes beat out the otherwise awful traffic in Quito. They run just like a light rail, basically, with scheduled stops and what-not.
The best thing though is simply the price, which allows almost everyone to ride. The sheer number of buses is incredibly impressive as well. There is no bus schedule, but there doesn’t need to be—I usually wait 30 seconds for a bus in the morning. The longest I’ve waited was probably less than five minutes. Of course, there are fewer at night, but that is to be expected.
The down side—other than the crime—is that no matter what the outside of the bus says, the route can change. Usually it doesn’t, but because this is how I get to and from work, it can be very upsetting when it happens and I am suddenly trapped on a bus that doesn’t make the scheduled stop and instead goes all of the way to the south before opening the doors again. The good thing is that there are only three or four variations on these routes—it’s not like I’ll end up somewhere completely new.
There are also tons of other buses, but these other buses seem to go any old direction they please, whenever they please. They have a sign in the front, but mostly the person who collects the money leans out of the door and shouts a street name or direction. These buses are always a huge risk for me and since I live so near an Ecovia station (one of the main transport lines) I have no need usually.
Even more convenient than the buses in the city, are the long-distance buses that travel all over Ecuador. It takes a long time to get places, but you pay about a dollar an hour and you can go ANYWHERE. It’s so much better than a Greyhound or anything we have in the States. Of course, Ecuador is waaay smaller than the US, but still. Here, buses will drop you off wherever you want —as long as it’s on their way—without charging you extra. Plus, again, there are so many buses per day that you rarely need to buy a ticket in advance. There is some sort of schedule, but it’s not posted anywhere. I think you can call and ask, but it’s pretty easy to just show up at the terminal and buy your ticket there, right before you leave. Then you can just listen for someone shouting “A Quito!” or wherever you’re going, and board that bus.
I’ve found that public transportation is one of the best outlets for cultural studies. If you think that your culture is not so different from where you are, hop on a bus and get back to me. I guarantee you'll notice some differences. 
Buses here in Ecuador are places of constant motion and commotion. People come in at different stops (or wherever the driver will let them enter), to sell food and drinks—fried meat, ice cream, you name it. The sellers yell and walk up and down the aisles for a while before jumping off whenever they can. There is almost always someone playing loud music on their phone and sometimes people decide to have a freestyle rap contest. There was a small dog on my eight-hour ride to the coast whimpering for something like three hours. Everyone talks, yells, or sings; everyone piles in with a Latino sense of personal space (no sense of personal space).
In the US we love our space (and our peace and quiet) and we also feel some sense of entitlement to it. In Ecuador, I have yet to witness a disagreement on a bus, even when people fall over each other and shove each other to get on or off the bus. I only hear a “perdon” when someone basically pushes someone else out the door or tramples them. I’ve definitely gotten my arm stuck in the door before, in addition to only being able to enter the bus as the doors close, because they give me that extra shove so that I can fit.
This space issue was similar in Russia, except there no one talks. Public transportation is just one big awkward silence. On the long bus rides here in Ecuador, there is not a moment of silence or calm. Since there are no bus schedules, no one really cares about time either. Once on a long ride, our bus driver stopped to pee alongside the road and we waited for like 15 minutes or something. No one complained. People stand for hours on end on the buses without complaining.
I sort of love this relaxed attitude, but it can also be frustrating. For example, crime is a huge problem on buses here, but it doesn’t really seem like people try to do much about it. Ecuadorians always say, “Don’t take the trolley!” because you’ll get robbed—like it’s your fate and the only way to avoid it is to avoid the trolley. I have been pick-pocketed once already, so of course they have a point, but as an American, I want to ask, “What is being done about this?” I immediately think of how the system needs to change, rather than how I need to adapt to the system. How American. 
Here is a video that my friend Romy had me watch. It's in Spanish, but you can understand what's happening anyway I think. 

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