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Taking the Bus in Merida


Editor’s Note: Michael Ramos is a new writer for Yucatan Living. After 20 years as a journalist writing about everything from family reunions gone awry to the war in Iraq (yes, he was on the ground…), he has moved to Merida and hopes to become a regular contributor. We hope so too!

Buses in Merida

They dominate the city streets, moving in and around traffic with the dexterity of hummingbirds.  They are as indispensable to Merida’s economic and social life as chocolate is to mole sauce. Merida’s vast inventory of buses will get you to just about any place you need or want to be in the city. This article is intended to give you the basic information you need to navigate the system, a system that runs almost flawlessly without the use of designated bus stops or easy-to-follow maps of the routes.

Perfectly Ordered Chaos

“Instead you’re going to find a perfectly ordered chaos that works for most Meridanos who use the bus service every day,” says Beatriz Echeverría, who, like most locals, learned the bus routes as a child.

Merida’s centro is the main staging area for the buses. But you can take a bus to almost anywhere in the city, and many places beyond. From the central bus stops, buses deliver their passengers to all areas of the city either directly or through transfers. Despite how it might first appear, it is not difficult to navigate the White City. And believe it or not, often the best way to find out what bus will get you to your destination is by asking someone on the street. Not very organized and methodical, we know, but this is Merida… and it works.

No one around to ask? Just asking the bus driver if his bus goes to your destination is the easiest approach in this culture where word-of-mouth is valued more than official publications. The city of Merida publishes a map of the routes, but the locals we showed it to for pointers declared it understandable only by engineers and people who hold doctorates in topography.

“I’d never be able to understand that map,” Echeverría says when we show it to her. “There are just too many buses and too many routes. That map is trying to explain the theory of relativity in one paragraph.”We thought Itzimna Merida busperhaps she made it sound too complicated, so we tried it ourselves and after much confusion, began to think that maybe she was right. Maybe asking, talking and just feeling our way around was a better approach.

Where To Find A Bus Stop

So if there aren’t designated bus stops, how do you get the bus to stop? In typical informal Merida fashion, Echeverría reminds us.

“You just wave your arm so the bus driver can see you. It’s better to wait on a far corner, so he has time to see you and stop. Then you pay your fare and enjoy the trip, listening to cumbia music, ranchera or Mexican pop, usually at a very loud volume.”

The buses have their routes written in large letters on their windshields, but like most things in Mexico, the routes aren’t written in stone. In fact, sometimes they might be nicely printed signs on their front windshield, and sometimes you’ll be reading just a handwritten scrawl. yellow merida bus

Travel In Comfort… Sometimes!

The comfort level of Merida’s buses varies. It is, remember, a country of extremes and a city of traditions. Some of the buses have probably been in operation for decades and are smoke-belching behemoths… nightmares for the environmentally conscious, but they have probably seen a lot of interesting history. If only they could talk! Other buses  are newer, and some even have air conditioning.

“Compared to the buses in the United States, the ones here aren’t going to have all the comforts,” says Maria Sanchez, another resident who rides the bus every day. “But what I like about our bus system is that we don’t have to wait very long for a bus.”

Sanchez is referring to the succession of buses that arrive at the stops regularly. Riders rarely have to wait more than 15 minutes for a commute in Merida. In the states, however, buses usually arrive at hourly intervals, and sometimes even less often. The short wait time for a bus is due largely to the number of bus lines operating in the city. According to the Catastro Municipal de Merida, 26 companies offer city transportation services, and all of them are licensed to operate by the Municipio.

Bus Etiquette

“And I think we’re more polite here,” Sanchez adds. “In Merida, people get in line to board the bus. There is almost never any pushing or shoving. You’ll see people in a well-formed line at the stop waiting for their bus. I’ve ridden the buses in the United States, and people were pushing each other to get on.”

sitting on the bus in MeridaWhile that information might seem trivial, it is an important courtesy to remember in this culture where politeness is valued and people still smile on the street when you walk by. Be polite and do not jump to the front of the line. Instead take your place behind the last person and wait like a well-mannered Meridano.

A combination of vans and buses traverse the city, all charging $6 pesos a person for regular fare and some charging a discount to students and INAPAM members (senior citizens).

If you are a student at a local school or university, a bus ride will only cost you $3 pesos, as long as you flash the driver your student ID card. Senior citizens over 65 also ride for only $3 pesos, as long as they can show their showing your card on the bus in MeridaINAPAM card.

Best Times of Day to Travel on the Bus

The number of students using the buses can cause a snarl at certain times of the day, however, so you need to consider that when making your city bus travel plans.

“You want to avoid using the buses when students are leaving the schools,” says Roberto Bustamante, a vendor near the Centro. “There are so many of them, and the buses will be full. You will probably have to wait longer for a bus during that time.”

Echeverría agrees.

“Expect buses to be really packed during rush hours,” she says. “Some buses will have a huge line of people waiting to board.”

The peak times for bus riders are 6 AM  to 9 AM, noon to 2 PM and 7 PM to 9 PM. Bus service in Merida usually begins about 5 AM and ends at midnight.

While On The Bus

Once you’re on the bus, things start to get interesting. If you are lucky, be sure to enjoy the singers, clowns or other entertainers who board the buses to divert your attention from the driver who just careened around that slow-moving car. Try not to think about those lightpoles you’ve seen with big bus-sized dents in them as you listen to sweet trova music. If there are no on-board entertainers, you can surely entertain yourself watching  the world go by outside your window. When you near your destination, you’ll probably start wondering how to make the driver stop long enough to get off the bus.

Getting Off the Bus

“About a block before your destination, just say baja! (pronounced “BA-ha” and Spanish for “getting down!”) and the driver will stop,” Echeverría says. “If you don’t know where you’re supposed to get off, just tell the driver when you get on where you’re going, and he’ll let you know when it’s time for you to get off.”

Sometimes, even if you are totally on top of the situation, your bus driver might skip a stop to make up for lost time, stop to patronize his favorite taco stand or veer off on an alternate route to avoid a traffic problem. Or you might fall asleep or get deeply into your book and miss your stop. Don’t worry, though!

“No problem,” Echeverría jokes.

“You get a tour of the city as the bus completes its route, and then the driver will let you off on his way back to the centro.”

When you finally do get off the bus, don’t forget to tip the entertainers – and thank the driver as you get off. He might have just given you a rollercoaster ride, but he did get you to your destination!

****

Next, read Part Two of Taking the Bus in Merida which breaks down the routes in an easy-to-follow format. It delves into routes, how to navigate them, how to use combis and taxis, and answers other pressing navigational questions. For the traveler who insists on a map, or if you want to be prepared to follow along next week, you might be able to find a map at the newsstands around the Merida Zócalo for $50 pesos, which occasionally have a few in stock. Otherwise, use the Force, Luca!

 

 


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26 Responses to “Taking the Bus in Merida”

  1. In my opinion, there is NO more enjoyable part of Merida than riding the bus. My friend Angie and I started using the bus on our first visit. We are like kids…We eagerly await the bus, and we would ride forever if it was possible. The people, the conversation, the sights……and the low price! I can’t wait to return….Our favorite story involves a bus ride. On our first trip ever to Mexico, we got on the wrong bus at night….We rode and rode, and then the route ended. We knew very little spanish at that time. Through the wonderful heart of a bus driver, we did get back home without problems. It has become one of our favorite memories, and we would love to do it again. As a matter of fact, we did repeat the route one Saturday morning. So much fun!!Gosh, I miss and love the bus!!! Enero pronto!!!!

  2. Great article! I can hardly wait to see the next segment. Are there plans for a similar one about the buses to the coast or the intercity lines?

  3. So many people depend on the buses. There are too many buses given that the streets are old and narrow and not designed for the type and volume of traffic, epseically buses. I always shake my head when I see a bus driver turning a corner while chatting on his cell phone. I am still adjusting to the fact that anyone can hail a bus and the bus will stop where and when a person waves. Needless to say, this is neither safe nor smart from a traffic management perspective, Bu, that is what makes Merida so interesting. There is also the air polution factor generated by the many buses, many of which are old. The last bus venture I took was like a scene from the film “Speed.” I got motion sickness, LOL.

  4. About a dozen years ago, or so, Merida had a program to replace many of the buses. Many of the old buses at that time looked like school buses from the 1950′s and smoked badly. They were just falling apart.

    Now, the formerly “new” buses are smoking a lot – because the diesel engines are not maintained properly. A well-tuned diesel engine doesn’t smoke in big black clouds!

    But it is time for another round of bus replacements. This time, they should be natural gas buses, which would greatly clean the city air.

    If the planners would stop focusing on all the cars and work harder on mass transit — like light-rail, trolley-like electric, and better routes — the city would have much improved traffic and cleaner air. As the rest of the world has already learned, you cannot build your way out of congestion. Add lanes and more cars arrive to use them.

    Alternative transportation methods would do so much for the city. Many rail lines are still in place and unused or lightly used. Fixing them and using light rail to the city center with bus circulation routes around the rest of the city would be a great improvement.

    Or at least natural gas powered buses. There are already filling stations for that.

  5. I look forward to part II

  6. This is our families way of travel, although for us riding with 4 can coast the same as taking a taxi (short distances) But at only 6 pesos a person its great. Our kids use to get student discounts but only when in uniform. Both our 12 and 14 year old take the bus to visit friends, go to the mall and get around the city solo. We also picked up a map of Merida with city bus routes when we first got here and it has been super helpful..once you start using the map it does get easier to read! Happy bus travels!

  7. Thanks for tackling this subject. I look forward to the next installment. I´ve enjoyed taking buses downtown but haven´t ventured farther afield. Hopefully with the next installment, I will.

  8. Taking the bus to the grocery store on a weekday morning is a great way to get to know your neighbors!

  9. Like Ed, I’m eagerly awaiting part II. It’s probably worth mentioning that passengers should accept, and keep handy, those receipts that the driver issues upon boarding. My husband had a bad habit of refusing the little slips, that is, until we experienced out first audit. Seeing the white-shirted officials swiftly approaching, the driver franticly passed receipts back to us via several passengers. Boy, oh boy, did the driver look relieved when he saw my husband flash our receipts to the auditor. Since that day, we’ve been audited one other time – and, you better believe we had our receipts ready to display! We don’t live in Merida full time, and we don’t take the busses with great regularity, so I’ve often wondered if it’s just our strange luck. Or, is the audit procedure a fairly frequent occurrence?

  10. Back in 2009 or so, it was fair to say that the maps came out in the fall and disappeared rapidly. So far in 2011 I see the maps generally available from the periodical kiosks on the north side of the Plaza Grande (Zocalo — this isn’t Mexico City!). I have found these multi-colored maps very useful. If you can read a map, go for it!

    As for CasiYucateca’s suggestions, they are right on.

    By the way, PEMEX does not offer low sulfur diesel, so we really get a full blast from those old diesel buses and trucks one sees everywhere.

  11. are any of the buses handicap accessible?

  12. Great article and I’m looking forward to the “routes”. I need to get from Santiago to the Slow Food Market and never know what bus to take. Keep writing!

  13. I like this. Very useful. My anxiety with the buses in Merida is that they go so darned fast. A Meridian friend told me that this is because the drivers get paid per route—the number of times they go out and then return? No wonder they drive like mad! I wish city policy could have an effect on that.

    so . . even tho I take the bus to many places, when I walk, I always try to walk on non-bus streets.

    Anyhow, let’s have an article on the collectivos which I do not understand at all!

  14. A friend had a map of the city bus routes. It made sense to me! For two years I asked for one at every tienda, and could never obtained one. Finally I gave up. So, if anyone can get me one and hold onto it until November, I’ll be eternally grateful! Come to think of it, get me two or three (or is that why they all run out?!).

  15. I too enjoy the bus system; well except for the exhaust which can choke you, and the extreme indifference of a vast number of drivers who will jackrabbit start before you have even finished paying your fare, the speed with which they drive, stop, start, and turn, nothing better than a 2 wheel turn! I tell any newcomers to the bus system here, this is no simple transport, this is a full contact body sport, you must be engaged.
    I find the buses so much easier to use than the car, even when I end up somewhere I hadn’t intended to go; it’s all part of the adventure.
    And I agree – the map is HORRIBLE! and it only shows going out to a point, but never returning?????? And least as best as I can make out.
    In the next installment some common phrasing would be helpful: similar to the Bajar example.

    Well done!
    gracias
    Debi

  16. First, I am remiss in not saying what a great article this is. Looking forward to the next!

    For Alan or anyone who doesn’t realize, “THE Zocalo” is in Mexico City – yes. It is the biggest, oldest, most famous zocalo in Mexico.

    However, “zocalo” is a generic term for “main plaza” of a city. So, there’s a zocalo in Oaxaca, one in Merida, in Puebla, Acapulco, etc. Merida has a Hostel Zocalo, Oxxo Zocalo, etc. Yucatecans often say “zocalo” rather than “plaza grande”. Plaza can be any of the little centers around Merida, or a shopping center, but zocalo is the main plaza in front of the cathedral in Centro.

  17. In the next installment, we discuss the bus routes, transfers, the collectivos, audits and other issues that tie into bus travel in Merida. CasiYucateco, you’re right. Adding more lanes isn’t the solution to eliminating congestion. City leaders and planners need to develop and implement a commuter system that’s comfortable, eco-friendly and able to accommodate growth.

    Driving habits in Mexico have always fascinated me. As a person born and raised in the United States but of Mexican lineage, I’ve often wondered how people who usually move at a leisurely pace so quickly abandon that trait as soon as they get behind the wheel of a vehicle. This morning while walking a friend’s dogs, I saw a man maneuver his car to the left of another car that was turning left. He almost caused an accident. Is it because Mexican drivers don’t go through the driver’s training mandated in the states? Is it because rules for any activity in Mexico are capricious, subject to change on a whim? In any case, foreigners accustomed to a more orderly traffic flow have to adjust to a country where most activities move at a glacial pace but then are boosted to the speed of light when a vehicle is involved.

    After reading our next installment, you’ll be able to move around the city with the confidence of any Meridano! To Allison Morrill, I’ll see about locating extra maps. Perhaps we can keep them at the Yucatan Living office to eliminate the need of looking all over the city for them.

    Happy bus travels!

  18. The last time I purchased the Plan de la Ciudad with the transit routes (yes, routes only indicated in the outward direction from el Centro) it was 25 pesos.

    The old INSEN or newer INAPAM card does NOT provide for discounted fares for senior citizens for urban buses, which require the newer CITUR card, available from the old Penitentiary at the Parque de la Paz (across from the main Zoo entrance). (I believe it is the CITUR card that students present as well.) The air-conditioned city buses usually have a one fare policy, no discounts for seniors. A line with a mix of buses with A/C and those without will allow discounted senior travel on the buses without A/X. The CITUR card is free, and they take your picture on the spot. Usual official ID with photo proof of age and status here are required.

    For inter-city travel, ADO offers about 3 seats per bus for those presenting INAPAM cards, so advance purchase is recommended for the best likelihood of obtaining a discounted senior seat.

  19. Fabulous article. So much badly needed information was included. I look forward to part II.

  20. I ride the bus frequently and use my INAPAMcard. They now have a new card specifically for the metropolitan buses that you have to scan on a little machine as you get on the bus. I’m not sure where to get this new card, but I can no longer get the 3 peso discount with just my INAPAM card.
    If anyone knows where to get these cards it would be helpful

  21. Thanks, Alan. We JUST purchased a bus route map and it was $50 pesos, so maybe the price has gone up.

    As for the buses, thank you for all that valuable information. We would like to add that the place to go to get the CITUR card is indeed the old penitentiary, called the Ex-Penitentiary, and it is open Monday through Friday, from 8 am to 4 pm. To get the card, you can show your INSEN card (INSEN = Instituto Nacional de la Senectud (National Institute for Aging), a comprabante (proof of where you live with your address), and proof that you are here legally. If you don’t have the INSEN card, your passport, showing proof of your age, is probably sufficient.

    To get the card, students need a letter from their school, a comprabante, a photo ID and they need to go to the offices of SEJUVE (Secretaria de la Juventud - Secretary of Youth), located at Calle 64 #460 x 53 y 55 in the Centro.

    The first card is free, but if you lose it and need another, you will be required to pay $36 pesos for the replacement.

  22. We just answered this question!! (as did one of our readers). Let us know how it goes, Evonne!

  23. I was running late for my appointment with Dr. Cecilia Vazquez and there were no taxis where there is usually a line of them. I jumped on the bus headed for Itzimna, knowing that my destination was in a nearby colonia. Not only was the bus headed in the right direction, but it deposited me practically across the street from the dentist’s office. All for 6 pesos. Unbelievable. Today, I learned Houston’s public transit authority is offering more frequent Saturday service, so that it may take only half instead of a whole day to get where you’re going. The fare is US$1.25.

  24. PS: Dr. Cecilia is terrific!

  25. Just got my CITUR card today, they wanted a copy of my INAPAM card, front and back, a comprobante and FM3 (no copies needed of those 2 documents. It took about 5 minutes. Thanks for the info.

  26. Thanks for the report, Evonne!

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