Apr 07

The Rio bus experience


Scream if you want to go faster! Image source


Well, I’m less than a week into my new life away from the daily grind and so far things are going well! I had been half expecting to have lots of free time now that my working day no longer involves spending 3-4 hours on public transport, however it’s amazing how quickly new tasks appear to fill the space. Not that I’m complaining you understand – right now, being busy is a very good sign!

But speaking of public transport, some of you may remember a post I wrote last year “Rio buses: Accidents waiting to happen” – it was the day after 7 people had died in a bus crash, so you can imagine I was feeling pretty strongly about bus safety.

But as well as safety concerns, my everyday complaint about riding on buses in Rio relates to the style of driving. Corners are treated with utter contempt, with most drivers actually accelerating as if trying to throw as many passengers off balance. If a traffic light turns red up ahead, but the driver has a 20 metre gap before the car in front, the driver will accelerate hard, then slam on the brakes at the last moment. Everyone gets thrown around bus for no good reason!

Well, if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video must be worth a couple of million. Here some school kids demonstrate the experience perfectly:


Pretty hilarious isn’t it? I’m sure that people who’ve ridden the buses here in Rio will identify with this.


In all seriousness, although the bus rides in Rio can be a little extreme, they’re not so bad that I would tell people to avoid them. The best advice I can give is to make sure you have a minimum of 3 points of contact with the bus at all times – only a fool does anything on a Rio bus without at least one hand gripping on to something solid!


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  1. John Napper

    That’s brilliant! The only thing missing is someone in a high chair taking the money and operating the turnstile. For me the actual paying is often the most ‘exciting’ part of the journey as the bus lurches while you are trying to hand over the money or receive the change.

    1. tomlemes

      It’s really well done isn’t it? I know what you mean about trying to pay the cobrador – I always make sure I’ve got my money in hand before I get on so I’m not fiddling about looking for change while going around a corner at 120 km/h!

  2. Saudades

    Lololol video is hilariousssssss

    1. tomlemes

      Ha ha ha! Yeah, I cracked up when I saw those kids throwing themselves around! :D

  3. Angela

    I rode the buses in Rio in 1988 and 1989. It’s fun to read that the experiences are still the same. I learned early on from a cobrador to have my money together before getting on a bus.

    1. tomlemes

      Absolutely! I’ve noticed that Brazilians rarely have their money in other payment situations (like at the supermarket), but on the buses you really need to be ready when you get on the bus.

  4. Cristina Landi

    I just can’t stop laughing with this video!! This is the perfect dramatization for a bus ride in Rio.Unfortunately this is far from being funny right? I hope the quality of the bus services get better soon… but I’m really not very optimistic. I’m glad to know that you doing good in your your new routine. Have a nice week!!

    1. tomlemes

      I know! It really made me laugh too. And you’re right, there is a serious point here too. Since I’ve been here they’ve brought in quite a few more modern buses, but the drivers haven’t improved much at all. I heard they have payment incentives to drive quickly which is why they go so fast (and sometimes they don’t stop at bus stops). Not sure if that’s true, but it would explain a lot.

  5. marcos

    I agree with you, Tom. To be fair it is not the buses but all the public transport system in Rio and I am sure in Brazil is crap. Despite the fact that some people say that things are better in Curitiba but I have never been to Curitiba and I cannot say that it is better over there. The World Cup is just around the corner and it seems that the country and especially Rio are not ready for this major sport event.

    1. tomlemes

      Yes, there is certainly a lot of room for improvement in Rio’s public transport system. I think successive governments have spent so much encouraging people to buy cars instead of investing in public transport. It’s not an easy problem to fix quickly, but they really need to get working on it. The World Cup will be a big test.

  6. Luciana

    oh my goodness, the bus taking curves in the video is totally hillarous

    1. tomlemes

      Heh heh – I like it when they go over the bump too :D

  7. Christopher Wright

    Hahaha great video. To be fair I’ve also experienced many times bus drivers loving to accelerate on blind corners and on bumpy roads in the Algarve in Portugal. In fact the tour guides make a point of recommending taxis and avoiding the buses ;) !

    1. tomlemes

      Heh heh! Here in Rio I wouldn’t go as far as to tell people not to take the buses, but I would definitely recommend that they hold on very tight!

  8. Christopher Wright

    Well at least it’s a good physical workout!

    Hey Tom any chance of you doing a World Cup related post. Say where the Brazilian players go to eat out in Rio! There must be some cariocas in the squad.

    1. tomlemes

      Definitely good for the upper body strength when you have to stand as the bus goes around corners!

      I’ll have to start stalking the Seleção to find out where they eat ;)

  9. The Gritty Poet

    Regardless of speed I wonder how the bus from the overpass tragedy was able to overcome a wall that should supposedly follow and surround the contours of an elevated road. Perhaps said wall was too low, or there was a lack of proper railing if they decided to use that instead. It can also be that the human blunder was so great it was beyond any solution engineering could provide.
    I imagine you must be extremely happy not to ride those death traps for hours a day anymore.

    1. tomlemes

      Yeah, I’m not sure whether there are construction standards for things like that. As I remember it, I think the accident was caused by an argument between a passenger and the driver – the passenger went up to the driver (while he was driving) and kicked him, causing the bus to veer off the road. How incredibly stupid. My guess is that in most countries, if a bus drives wildly at the side wall, it would go over the edge.

      Yes, very happy not to be riding buses so much anymore, though more for comfort and boredom reasons than safety fears.

      1. The Gritty Poet

        Off topic: being that you are a birdwatcher I think you will enjoy this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XeFxdkaFzRA#t=20

        1. tomlemes

          Wow, this takes me back to Zoology lectures back in my university days… :D

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