I've seen nice buses in places like Turkey. Bolivia also comes close, though is poorer, and has not invested quite as much in its infrastructure. But for this blog I'll focus on my experience in Peru.
|An ice-capped stop on our 8 hour bus to Huaraz, Peru|
|Almost every bus ride to a new place, is filled with spectacular scenery - deserts of Bolivia|
|Peru is dominated by the Andes, always making for scenic bus rides|
Peru has large central bus terminals in all of its major cities, such as Lima, Arequipa and Cusco, and these terminals look a lot like the airport terminals in, for example, Canada.
And like our airport terminals, Peru's bus terminals are crammed with booths from different bus companies clamoring for your business, their employees shouting out the names of cities you are heading to. This happens especially in Bolivia. It's a unique experience, though a bit annoying to hear the sounds of "Orurooo! Oruro-ruro-rurooo!" endlessly echoing through bus terminals.
|A busy night in the La Paz, Bolivia bus terminal|
|On this chaotic night, my checked backpack nearly left on a different bus!|
|A typical overnight bus|
First off, Peru doesn't have an extensive rail network. The automobile came on the scene before it had a chance to expand. Europe, by contrast, has fully integrated rail networks that move people quickly and cheaply, reducing the need for buses that are slower and shakier on busy, bumpy roads.
Secondly, Peru has a relatively poor economy, indicative of a low rate of private car ownership. Very few people, let alone families, own cars. In contrast, most adults I know in Canada have their own private cars just to themselves! I'm no exception. I have had the privilege and luxury of driving from Toronto to Calgary (a 3 to 4 day car trip) or back, four times - two round trips.
The accessibility for Canadians to drive literally anywhere quickly and smoothly in the country is precisely the reason the bus system is poor - low demand. Combine that with one of the lowest population densities in the world, and the bus system faces severe constraints. There is only one nationwide bus company - Greyhound - which means there is limited competition to drive pricing down and quality up.
Unfortunately, the low demand still indicates the presence of some demand. The poor bus system does rob passengers of cheaper options to travel within Canada - a bit of a chicken and egg issue.
Peru's intra-city bus system is also supported by an amazing local bus system. One of the advantages to the low car ownership rate is that the roads are not choked by commuters, and the local buses move with incredible efficiency.
Peru's local transportation is highly decentralized, with an offering of individually operated microbuses that look like large vans, all offering their own routes, and letting you hop on and off wherever you want, unlike Canada's municipally operated massive buses with set routes and stops. These are traits indicative of the strength of economies, and can be observed in many places beyond Peru and Canada.
|One of the more uniquely designed microbuses in Sucre, Bolivia|
|Passenger quickly hopping on a microbus|
The hop on and hop off anywhere system is probably the most unique and differentiating trait between Canada and Peru. As a passenger you can simply walk to the main road and stick out your thumb. Microbuses are on the lookout to pick you up before another one gets to you first. In this system, the passenger is king.
The local microbuses are supported by mototaxis, tiny three wheeled vehicles, and conventional car taxis. In the jungle town Rurrenabaque, mototaxis are motorcycles that let you ride on the back of the driver.
|This motorcycle transports the whole family - Rurrenabaque, Bolivia|
Peru's mostly mountainous highway network hasn't hindered the success its bus system. Some of the more raw mountain roads are enough to make travelers dizzy and fear for their lives, as buses scream around blind, sharp turns.
The world's most dangerous road, though in Bolivia, had for some years the highest death rate. While they are in the process of paving a new, safer road on the other side of this magnificent valley, tours can take travelers down the most dangerous road by mountain bike, a thrilling experience.
|This bus is specially designed for the bumpy, windy ride on the world's most dangerous road|
|The World's Most Dangerous Tour bike tour|
|Spectacular scenery from the new road, which replaced the World's Most Dangerous Road|
Canada has much to learn from the efficiency and organization of the bus system of Peru. At the same time it has geographical and population constraints that limit the effectiveness of its system.
And while the informal hop on, hop off system works great in Peru, as well as in India where I've seen it, I can see how it would wreak havoc in Canadian cities. Because so many Canadians individually commute, such as in Toronto where I live, the road network simply cannot handle the volume. Horrible traffic is one of the most heated issues in busy, fast paced Toronto. Throw in a system where buses can stop wherever they want, and commuters would be incensed.
|Lima, a huge city of 10 million, with some rich districts, is, like Toronto, choked with traffic|
Then again, if buses were allowed to stop anywhere, and passengers could get on buses anywhere, it could incentivize drivers to get out of their cars, which is exactly what municipalities in traffic choked cities like Toronto are trying to do these days.
Until I return home to Toronto and start complaining about traffic again, I'll enjoy my efficient yet bumpy local bus rides in Peru!
|Whoa, I'm back to Canada soon!|