La Paz introduced another revolutionary transport system this year; the Puma Katari. There has been a hell of a lot of media hype and excitement about this service. So what is it exactly? To put it simply, it’s just a regular bus.
Most people in Bolivia can’t afford a car so rely on public transport. Up until now La Paz’ transport system has featured four service types.
1. Minibuses: In English we would call these minivans. They seat 7 to 15 cramped passengers depending on the size. Minibuses run a route chosen by the driver, with the most important stops displayed on the front window. Some have a vocador who yells upcoming destinations out the window and collects fares from passengers. Passengers can board or get off anywhere they like. The driver simply chucks on the hazard lights and pulls over. If someone at the back wants to get off then everyone in front of him must get off to let him past then get back on again. This can take up to a full minute while traffic backs up behind. As you can imagine this sort of constant delay significantly contributes to La Paz’s traffic mayhem. The standard fare is 1.5bs (0.22c).
2. Micros: I’m not sure why they are called Micros because they are actually pretty big. Micros are refitted US style school buses. People cram on until nobody else can possibly fit, often making for an uncomfortable ride. Like minibuses they stop anywhere to let passengers on and off. Micros are really, really slow, especially uphill, which is pretty much everywhere in La Paz. Standard fare is 1BS (0.15c).
3. Trufis: This a shared taxi service. They are cars that follow similar routes to Micros and Minibuses but are much quicker and more comfortable. The standard fare is around 3BS (0.40c)
4. Taxis: Are everywhere so you shouldn’t have to wait more than a few seconds to find one. Gypsy taxis are rundown old rust buckets with a cardboard sign that says taxi on the windshield. They are cheaper but more dangerous. Kidnappings are not unheard of. Radio taxis belong to a company which has their name printed on the car and a sign on the top. They are considered a lot safer. A short taxi fare can be as low as 7BS ($1).
These vehicles are all privately run. The Chofer (driver) often owns the vehicle himself, is responsible for it’s upkeep and receives all the profits. Choferes can also choose their own routes and hours. Many regularly work 12 hour days or more.
Choferes are renowned for providing consistently lousy service. They’re typically rude, obnoxious and argumentative. Numbered in their tens of thousands, they a part of a powerful union. Whenever they are unhappy with the government they block off every major thoroughfare which brings the entire city to standstill. Choferes that try to work instead of striking get rocks thrown through their windshields by other choferes.
Back to the Puma Katari. After a lifetime of suffering the above lousy transport options, paceños (people from La Paz) were delighted with the arrival of something more civilised. Never mind that it’s just a normal bus like the rest of the world has been using for decades. The Puma Katari is modern, spacious, comfortable, cheap and even has free WiFi. Unlike previous forms of transport, passengers must get on and off at dedicated bus stops which makes for a much faster ride.
Welcome to the present, Bolivia.