Saturday, May 9, 2009

Peruvian Time & Public Transit

This post was originally written for, when I was a member of a Rotarian Group Study Exchange in Pery.  I added this post to One Great Dewdrop on December 26, 2012.

We took an overnight bus from Huaraz to Trujillo, departing at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday and arriving at 8:30 a.m. on Friday. We arrived two hours late because the bus broke down on the side of the highway somewhere between Huaraz and Chimbote. I awoke out of a haze of barely sleep to clanging and shaking. I briefly considered whether we were being robbed before my TCAT brain kicked in and I realized that we were having a road call. I go 4,000 miles away, and I still can´t escape buses breaking down. Sigh.

Anyway, we arrived in Trujillo two hours late by American time and right on time by Peruvian time. Peruvian time is whatever time things end up happening. If you´re Rotary meeting is scheduled to begin at 8:30 p.m, there´s a small chance it might start at 8:30 p.m, but it´s just as likely that it will start at 9:00, 9:30, or even 10:00 p.m. This is completely normal and you should never waste energy stressing about it. The best approach is to get yourself ready for the published start time, then sleep/ journal/ blog/ read/ play with children/ walk around/ talk with Rotarians/ drink pisco sour as appropriate.

This flexibility of time has interesting implications for public transit.

There are generally two levels of Peruvian public transit: intercity and intracity. Intercity buses, run by companies like Cruz del Sur, Ormeño, and Movil Tours, run luxury, over-the-road (MCI-type) double-deck vehicles with passenger amenities like reclining seats, on-board snack service, movies, etc. I believe that there are also non-luxury versions of intercity transit, but I´ve heard that they are pretty unsafe, as drivers drive through the night with no rest, leading to accidents, drivers speed, leading to more accidents, and buses constantly break down, leading to still more accidents. These buses seem to generally depart on time, more or less, and arrive on time, more or less. Many times less rather than more.

There is also a smorgasbord of intracity transit:
  • Microbuses or micros are approximately 25-30 feet long and look sort of like shorter school buses. They run like shuttles, without a schedule.
  • I affectionately think of combis as the clown car of Peruvian public transit. Combis are approximately 10´vans with sliding doors in the middle into which you can stuff 15 or 16 people.  They also run like a shuttle, without a schedule.
  • Collectivos can be any type of vehicle. Collectivos depart from major destinations when full.
  • Official taxis are always yellow cars. Taxi transport is extremely cheap, and taxis abound (at least in Huaraz and Trujillo).
None of the intracity transit has anything like a schedule. A few people have commented that public transit here needs more planning, but I´m not sure that´s the case. Imposing schedules on public transit in a country where time is always flexible and relative is impossible. What´s the point of a schedule if it's not followed? As an outsider, it seems to me that Peruvian public transit is surprisingly efficient and culturally appropriate.

Let´s conclude with a photo of a market in Lima... taken our first day in country.

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