Transportation, Public Transportation in Buenos Aires, Featured Content

Colectivos (buses), Part 2: On Board (Super advanced colectivo etiquette)

Will Betton

By | February 10, 2011 | 5 comments

Part 1 of Super Advanced Colectivo Etiquette

For all of you colectivo joyriders and aficionados…..
For all of you determined to improve your colectivo awareness….
For all of you who are sick and tired of committing colectivo faux pas…..

This is what you’ve all been waiting for:

Coletivos, Part II: On Board

Paying your bus fare
I don’t care if Biggie’s about to throw down a verbal masterpiece. Interrupt the flow and pause your iPod until after you’ve put your coins in the slot! This especially applies to us gringos since most of our Spanish is far from impeccable. Nothing bothers a driver more than a foreigner with headphones that can’t effectively communicate his/her price or destination.

Also, don’t wait for the driver to ask you how much. Be sure to notify him when the person ahead has just one or two more coins to go. Imagine having to ask, ”How much?” 300 times a day, year round. I’d prefer Chinese water torture.

Right now, there are three basic city prices: $1.10, $1.20 and $1.25. If you’re traveling fewer than 20 blocks, you’re safe with the $1.10. The drivers, however, are a bit suspicious of those who claim the cheap price. In order to avoid a driver interrogation and minimize dialog, it’s best to tell him the cross streets when paying this fare. Unless you’re going from one side of town to the other, the $1.20 is your best bet. Be aware of the established zones with each bus company and if you cross one of them then the fare goes up a level. Sometimes it is possible to go only 10 blocks and have to pay $1.20.

Most coin machines have an arcade-like coin slot and a mini protruding bucket for dumping the coins. I prefer the slot because sometimes the coins can swoosh around in the bucket. If you’re going to use the dumping method, DO NOT put all coins in at once. Give each one a slightly aggressive toss to force it down. With a little bit of observing it’s easy to distinguish the veterans from the novices.

Seat Positioning
This section is the heart of colectivo etiquette. I’ve seen locals who’ve presumably been bussing it for years that still haven’t caught on to the subtleties of positioning. It’s a complex art that requires extensive training in general bus theory, as well as an acute eye.

It doesn’t matter how full or empty the bus or how long or short of a distance to be traveled. GO TO THE BACK. There are several reasons for this.
1). Pregnant women, young mommies with toddlers, and your average senior citizen reserve (justly) the right for the seats up front. The occasional cheta (snob) woman will sometimes use her excess of shopping bags and preserved sex appeal to claim a front spot, but we all know she’s in the wrong.
2). With so many comers and goers, the front half of the bus tends to be the most congested and will usually have the fewest available seats.
3). There’s no confusion in the back. Staking out a spot in front of a two-seater is like signing a property deed. That shit’s in writing.

Tips for Best Colectivo Etiquette
1). The magical space- Most colectivos have four seats in the extreme rear. If you can claim the closest two-seater to the back, then you’ve essentially got six potential seats for grabs. Chances are, one these will free up within a few stops.
2). Fidgety Folk- Let’s imagine the back is filling up with standing folk, but there’s still some room for mobility. You notice that the woman in the adjacent one-seater is clutching her purse more tightly than normal. Or maybe she’s putting away her book. These are signs that her stop is coming up and her seat will be free. Most riders do display some sort of restless behavior moments before getting off.
3). Group Scenario- This can be a bit tricky. If you have the choice between claiming the two-seater belonging to a couple or that of two strangers, which is your best bet? The laws of probability favor the strangers. All you need is one free seat and the chances of getting it are doubled with strangers since they get off (presumably) separately. But what if you’re dealing with a group of four footballers? In this case, the best strategy would be to position yourself in front of two strangers BUT close to the group. This way there’s no relying on the group for a free seat, but if they leave you can pounce on the open seats.
4). Coin Counting- Suppose you enter a fairly full bus and the person in front of you gets the $1.10 fare and also grabs the last remaining back seat. Stand in front of his seat because you know he ain’t going more than 20 blocks.

Special Scenarios
Grannies, Families and the 55- Is it because the 55 passes through Villa Crespo, Almagro, Caballito, Flores (arguably the most domestic region of the city)?? I suspect so, but nonetheless, catching the 55 on a weekend can be the average Joe’s nightmare. Talk about total overload of babies and old ladies!! Not even the first half of the back is safe. Either fake sleep or get a spot in the extreme rear if you want to retain your precious seat.

Leg Touchers and the 15- I find that the few buses that are provincia-bound can be notorious for passengers who are outright space abusers. There’s a known invisible line between the seats that I consider sacrilege to cross. If you ever catch the 15 in the morning and find yourself amongst the nocturnal porteros and late night security guards, you will probably witness what I regard as colectivo anarchy. They sleep and they lean, they overstep their spatial bounds, they jump seats Frogger-style. It’s almost absurd how close to the brink of insanity I’ve been from a simple hour of leg touching. Despite all of this, I give these guys my absolute sympathy and I would certainly be ten fold more bitter if I were in their shoes. This whole scenario can also easily be avoided by holding out for a one-seater or sitting on the isle seat instead of the window.

Final Thoughts
Colectivos kick ass. But what kicks even more ass is the satisfaction of using one’s enhanced colectivo awareness to snag a seat that your average rider would have been unable to get. Dig it!

Wow! Don't forget to check the 'Activities you might like' right here


  1. Art Vandelay

    22/10/2009 - 7:46 pm

    Your are the Larry David of colectivos..all these unwritten rules you adhere to!!! Do you react similarly when you find someone breaking one of these rules?

  2. costanza

    22/10/2009 - 8:24 pm

    yeah, if you think sitting is the end all-be all, but i prefer the lean, esp when you have that space reserved for folks in wheelchairs and the bar along the window. its the best spot on a bus and unless your fav seat opens up, you wont have to move for anyone (…i mean a wheelchair on a BA bus? , c'mon)* and you wont be bussled around as passengers get on and off. also…best view of the passing spectacle…

    *not sayin they shouldnt be there and yes, the buses should be made more accessible, but in the meantime…

  3. Jed Rothenberg

    22/10/2009 - 10:24 pm

    I wish you knew how well you just pegged Mr. Will Betton, aka George, you get the gold medal of the day

  4. Janis

    17/02/2011 - 11:11 pm


    You forgot to mention that using the MONEDERO card makes paying the fare easier than using coins (if you are lucky enough to have them). Many more routes have the system operational. Kioskos and subte stations will add pesos to the card.

  5. Andrea

    13/12/2011 - 5:05 pm

    You are so right and so funny. I am a porteña (i was born in BA) and you have described a real “picture” about the way of travel in Buenos Aires. Excelente!!!