Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa ran on a platform of implementing a metro system in the city, but shortly after he was sworn into office, he argued that Transmilenio should be the primary mode of commuting for citizens.
Transmilenio is the bane of existence for many who must commute in Bogotá. And in recent years the Integrated Public Transportation System (SITP), which hopes to ultimately replace the colectivos, has supplemented it.
Oh, colectivos – driving at highway speeds from one red light to the next, barely stopping to pick up customers, and in general putting lives at risk to the blaring sounds of vallenato or reggaeton. This was the means of transportation for most Bogotanos prior to the implementation of Transmilenio in 2000.
While we cannot stop danger, we can work to prevent it. And while we cannot change everything, we can learn how to tolerate. Here are some tips to maneuver public transportation in Bogotá.
Carrying a bag, whether a briefcase, book bag, or purse will put you at risk for being a victim of pickpocketing. If you cannot avoid carrying one, make sure you close all zippers and carry the piece on the front of your body rather than on the back.
Pickpockets in Bogotá are slick – or if they’re not slick then they’re aggressive – and either of the two is something you want to avoid. Transmilenio gets overly crowded, and it’s not always easy to know who is touching you at which time or where, so be mindful and don’t carry anything that is too expensive.
Hang up the phone
Just put it away. Don’t answer it on the bus. Period. Carrying around a phone is putting a target on your head.
It signals to pickpockets that you not only have a phone, but you probably have other goods as well. This rule should be followed throughout Bogotá, but more so from the center and south.
Don’t bring the bling
Buy in bulk
Don’t buy one trip at a time when refilling your bus card. Transmilenio stations are known for having long lines to buy tickets, so if you’re at a station with no line – fill ‘er up, baby.
Keep the change
For those adventurous enough to ride the colectivo, have small bills on hand. Many bus drivers do not have change and will ask you to wait until someone pays with small bills. That might not happen prior to your leaving the bus.
It’s best to have small bills anyway. That’s a standard rule for most purchases throughout Colombia. Carry plenty of sencillo.
Watch the 30-second wait
A seat becomes free. In most cultures, people are quick to rush to an open seat. But in Colombia you might notice a very casual sauntering to the newly available seat followed by a 30-second hover over the seat.
This is to prevent granos de las nalgas or butt pimples. Some claim that refusing to sit on a seat recently warmed by the butt of another will also prevent any diseases. The hovering is normal and you will see older rather than younger people doing it.
Barging onto the bus
In most cities, the etiquette is to move all the way in on a bus to make room for others, but in Bogotá the attitude is quite different. People crowd around the doorways and entrances.
Patrons will often stand strong. If you wish to penetrate further into the bus, you must manage to squeeze behind all those who have found themselves planted firmly by the doors. Even if you ask them in Spanish, many will just look at you strangely. Just move past them.
Making room for music
Portable radios and phones will blast music, and some might have a singer, musician or a rapper attached to them. Many are working and will pass around a hat or a cup for those who wish to donate.
This is normal, as some Colombians view public spaces in a very different way than other cultures. It’s like a place where anyone can do anything. And almost no one is usually bothered, or at least they don’t act like it.
Colombia has a very high informal employment rate, thus the mentality of “do what you can to make ends meet.” From plastic ID covers to candies, and homemade ice cream pops to sewing kits, Colombians sell anything and everything on the bus.
They will hand you the product in order to increase their sales, on the theory that when the customer has the product in hand, he or she is more likely to buy it. Feel free to accept or refuse the item, but always followed by a “gracias.”
Make yourself comfortable
In some cases, people will sit in the accordion section of a Transmilenio bus. Some sit on the ledges of other seats and some might even recline behind seats. Their primary objective, I imagine, is to give their feet a rest after a long day at work.