It's not a secret: I’m a girl of the suburbs, through and through. Not exactly the identical houses and gated community suburbs, but the suburbs nonetheless. Given that little tidbit, my time in Quito is my first real experience in a city for an extended period of time and, therefore, my first real experience with public transportation. I've generally had access to an individual vehicle of some sort, whether driven by parent, relative or neighbor, in a place with relatively predicable traffic patterns. I could leave at pretty much the same time each day without worrying about my arrival time. Well, now things have changed, and I've realized a few things about and around bus travel in Quito.
There is no schedule.
I don’t think I fully comprehended the reality of this fact. The HPU trolley has a schedule, the RTD has a schedule, the Underground has a schedule. The buses of Quito, regardless of type or destination, do not have a schedule. In general, they start when it’s light and stop running when it gets dark, around 7pm. Luckily there are a lot of buses running each route, so there’s generally a bus nearby when I need it. However, this can also cause a buildup of buses around the same stop, leaving another stop with no bus in sight. Generally, it works out in my favor, though, so I can’t complain.
Priority seating is for pregnant women, not just overweight women who appear to be have the shape of pregnant women.
The picture showing who received priority seating makes this very clear. Rather than the side silhouette of a figure in a dress with a protruding stomach region, the sign on the bus illustrates the forward silhouette of a woman with a hole in her stomach where there is a baby, sometimes attached by an umbilical cord. This does bring up the Dave Barry question as to when one should ask if a woman is pregnant (never). I’m just going to hope she tells me the truth.
We all know traffic is awful, but traffic in a bus sucks because the vehicle is not exactly easily maneuverable. I missed my first class on Tuesday morning because the bus was stuck in traffic due to construction and couldn't weave around like the motorcycles. This is part of the reason for no schedule, I suppose.
Turning right from the left lane and turning left from the middle lane are acceptable if you drive a bus.
One of the buses I take to the south part of the city for my internship has a special center lane dedicated to it. This means that there are also special lights that say “B” to indicate when the buses can turn right, in front of the other traffic that is still going straight. On the other hand, if you are turning left, but the turn lane is pretty full, it is acceptable to drive past the turn lane in the middle lane, then turn in front of all of the people waiting in the turn lane.
Going around a sharp-ish curve is more interesting if you line up multiple large vehicles.
That loop going to the highway? There are two lanes for a reason, and, if you know what you’re doing, and if you honk to announce your presence (see next point), two full size buses can turn simultaneously while lined up next to each other. This isn’t always a matter of passing the other bus, but rather completing your route more quickly, thus earning more money (as far as I can tell). The emphasis is on efficiency, and sometimes this requires interesting situations of large vehicles very close to one another.
Sometimes honking is the only way to convey your message.
If someone is not stopping in time, honk. If a pedestrian is in your way, honk. If it looks like someone is going to cross the street in front of you, honk. If you want to make your presence known, honk. To be clear, this isn’t an angry honk (most of the time). The little beeps are just friendly reminders of the multi-ton vehicle heading in your direction. There are, of course, angry extended honks, often accompanied by screeching tires and more honking.
Sit near the front, on the aisle.
Not only is the front of the bus nice because you can see your stop, but you are also more visible to others, making someone with a knife less likely to bother you. I’m a fan of not being bothered by my knife wielding bus companions, so I like the front of the bus. It’s also a good plan to sit on the aisle, therefore controlling who can sit next to you. By avoiding eye-contact with anyone other than the sweet old woman whose knees I could probably snap, the gringo I recognize from the university, or another young woman holding onto her purse with caution, I can usually avoid uncomfortable bus rides.
The guy standing by the ditch is not admiring the view of the open space.
Sometimes, nature calls and you just can’t make it to a traditional restroom. Although the alternative is hopefully a tree or a bush, there are times when you simply cannot find a place to hide. This means that the ditch on the side of the road looks really good, even if it is in the city.
Some graffiti is helpful, some is political, some is just…graffiti.
I have seen hastily written advertisements for a “safe abortion” sprayed on bridge walls, political slogans and promises on the corners, murals on the wall near the bus stop. All is graffiti, but the purpose of each is different. Whether spreading messages of support, presence, or threat, the graffiti can serve a purpose to the artist or the community; sometimes, however, it really is just obnoxious.
At times, the only thing to do is watch and listen.
You can’t make the bus go faster, you won’t arrive any earlier, and no matter how long you stare at the seat-back in front of you, it is not going to do anything interesting. Take the time to people watch or to admire the view as you descend into the valley. If you can’t be doing something that you would deem actively productive, do something that will at least give your mind a chance to explore your surroundings.