On just about every street corner in La Paz, you will see people flagging down large vans for a ride.
They aren’t hitchhiking. They’re commuting.
Bolivian public transportation takes carpooling to a new level.
Most people get around the city by using minibuses, trufis and micros. The minibuses are large vans that run on a fixed route without any fixed stops. On the windshield, drivers display the zones they will be passing through, and along the way, they pick up and drop off passengers freely. Since there are no stops, passengers simply alert the driver when they want to stop and get off. Around 12 to 15 people can fit in one van.
Trufis operate the same, except instead of vans, they are cars. Around three to seven people can share a trufi at one time.
Micros are large buses, also functioning the same way, that hold up to 30 people.
Yesterday, Waliki Friend, a UCB student organization dedicated to helping international students, took us on a tour of the city. Throughout the day, we hopped into different minibuses and micros to cover all of La Paz. On one micro, all the seats were filled, so I had to stand in the aisle, clinging to an overhead bar as the bus quickly twisted down a mountain.
Besides trying not to lose my balance, I started thinking about what would happen if we had transportation like this back in the United States. Quite frankly, I don’t believe it would be a popular option.
In my opinion, I don’t think Americans would be as open to packing into vans with strangers. With transportation options like Uber and Lyft being so popular and owning a car being so ingrained into American culture, it would seem that Americans prefer more individualized options.
Also, the lack of organization could also deter many American cities and towns from offering transportation like minibuses. When I mentioned that there were no designated stops for the minibuses, I truly meant people can ask to get off whenever they want. For example, one woman asked to be let off immediately, and the minibus stopped immediately in middle of the street for her.
With that example in mind, I have observed that the drivers also don’t follow many traffic laws. The stoplights are more of suggestions rather than signals. Vehicles aggressively weave in and out of lanes, stopping with only centimeters to spare from hitting each other’s bumpers. I’ve trained myself to look up at the buildings and not at the other cars because I get scared of the vans crashing into each other.
That being said, using the local public transportation has been a great way to immerse myself in daily Bolivian life and culture. Already, I’ve ridden with so many different types of people from Catholic schoolboys to cholitas. Minibuses have enabled me to interact with locals I may have never come into contact with elsewhere. I’ve observed that most people in La Paz are quite courteous, always saying hello to the driver and other passengers, thanking the driver upon exit, and helping with bus door.
Although the rides can be quite bumpy, minibuses will be my go-to daytime method of transportation thanks to the sheer convenience of them, the cheap 2Bs fare and the opportunity to experience La Paz like a local.