How to survive a ride on the Transmilenio

If you’ve ever lived or spent some time in Bogotá, you know that everyone has a collective hatred for the Transmilenio.

 

For those of you who don’t know, the Transmilenio is Bogotá’s public transportation system.  Sometimes it’s efficient, but it’s usually a nightmare that leaves you wondering every day why you don’t live closer to your job.

If you live in Bogotá, you will have to take Transmilenio at some point (unless you want to take a taxi every day, but sitting in Bogotá’s traffic deserves its own article).

 

Here are 7 tips for surviving the Transmilenio:

  1.  No da papaya.

    You will hear this a million times in Colombia…and there’s a reason!  “No da papaya” means don’t make yourself an easy target.  During my time in Bogotá, I felt safe and I never saw anyone getting robbed on the Transmilenio.  However, if you give someone the opportunity to rob you, they probably will.  Make sure your bag is zipped, with the

    zipper in front of you, and that you don’t have any valuables in your pocket or in easy-to-reach places.  Keep an eye out for wandering hands.  Now, I’m not saying you need to be paranoid during your entire ride.  But have a healthy amount of caution!

  2. Don’t be afraid to be assertive.

    One of the most frustrating things about riding the Transmilenio is that everybody seems to be in a panic to get on or off the bus.  This is because the drivers generally don’t care if you get on the bus or not (no lie, I’ve seen a driver close the doors and drive off just as a man with a broken leg was about to step on).  Once the bus pulls up, everybody will do what they can to make sure they get on the bus.  And when you need to get off, everyone will try to push you out of the way as if you don’t need to get off also.  You don’t need to (and shouldn’t) push people, but be assertive.

  3. Stand near the door

    This is especially a good idea if the bus is full.  It takes away some of that panic of having to push through a crowd of people to get off the bus in time.  It can also be helpful if you don’t know when to get off.  Some buses have little displays that tell you what the next two stops are, but not all.  If you stand by the door then you’ll be able to read the station name on the doors as you pull up.

  4. You can say “no” to vendors but be polite.

    Vendors (and musicians) are always on the Transmilenio. At first, it might annoy you, but remember that these people are just trying to earn money. They will try to sell you anything from pencils to selfie sticks (and hey, you might even need something they’re selling). It’s common for vendors to pass out their products for you to look at and then take them back if you decide you don’t want it. Don’t be afraid to look at it if you want, or to say “no”. However, it’s nice to smile at them, or return their greetings.The musicians are great, too. It makes the ride a little more enjoyable. If you like the music, show them by giving them a few monedas.

  5. Use the app!

    If you’re not sure where you’re going, the “Transmisitp” app can be super helpful. You just enter your starting point and your destination and it tells you your route and gives an estimate of how long it will take. Keep in mind that it doesn’t tell you when the next bus is coming.

  6. Give yourself plenty of time.

    One of Transmilenio’s greatest flaws is that there’s no set bus schedule. Three F1 buses could pass within a minute of each other and then another one won’t come for 20 minutes. It’s difficult to know. Even if the bus you need comes, during rush hour the buses are often too full to get on (this is another situation where being assertive can help!). If you need to be somewhere on time or early, it’s best to give yourself more time than you think you need to eliminate stress.

  7. Be patient.

    If you’re traveling in Bogotá, you should accept the fact that you’re not getting anywhere fast (unless you’re lucky). Transmilenio might be slow and require a lot of waiting, but your other option is even slower traffic. But hey, try to enjoy being in a new city! Take the time to people watch or listen to some new music.