Thursday, February 26, 2009


Just back from Quito picking up our first transcontinental visitor – big shout out to my Dad for making the journey down. We had a great day poking around Quito’s churches and plazas and getting sprayed with foam by exuberant Carneval celebrators. Finished off with dinner on a 6th floor rooftop staring straight up at Orion - who sits overhead at this latitude –and enjoying the lights on the Basilica and Cathedral and la Compan~ia. Super.

And we bussed both ways. First, let me be clear that the bus system here, and throughout the world, simply makes the US’s look juvenile and woeful deficient. The transportation network in the States is that we each have our car and we drive it places. The network here is that there are buses that go everywhere – city or village – frequently and everyone takes them. Some of the details of the operation of the system are, however, amusing and imperfect. Each driver owns his own bus. So the costs are fixed – he drives to Quito and pays for his gas and maintenance. The revenue comes from each passenger. So his incentive is to fill his bus. This leads to the humorous and confusing situation of drivers hawking their services – sometimes two drivers next to each other are shouting at you “Quito, Quito, Quito, Quito!” If you think the purpose is to provide the passenger with the fastest/soonest/most pleasant ride to Quito, this can be confusing. Understanding the ownership model helps to clarify. Secondly, once you enter the bus, you cease to be the valuable customer. There is no incentive to get the onboard customers to the destination quickly; rather, the target customer is the next paying passenger. This leads to the suboptimal situation of a bus full of people slamming to a halt, frequently, along the PanAmerican highway to pick someone up at a curb. Slow. This behavior led to our 5-whoops-no-7 hour trip up from Banos. Of course, the ticket agent in Banos raved about how this bus was such a good deal for us because it skipped Quito on a loop road and avoided the city traffic. Yea, and stopped every damn half mile to pick up another paying fare. So, in summary, the perfect bus experience is where the seat next to you is empty, but all the others are full so the driver doesn’t stop all the dang time. Parenthetically, in Mexico (at least), there are limited access busses for which you pay a premium (more than, say, the $1/hour it costs here) and the bus doesn’t stop as often. Not so available here.

All well. P.

And, our first guest columnist: Dad Blackburn. Welcome, Jim!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Usually when you think of busses you think of the bright yellow ones that you used to be forced to ride on the way to school but not anymore. Although busses are still primarily focused on bringing transportation to a large number of people at a time, they are now shifting their attention to building busses made for luxury and style. They are comfortable and fun to ride and drive.

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