How To Take the Bus In Mexico City

The bus system in Mexico City is reliable, safe, dirt cheap, and goes everywhere so you'll want to learn how to use it.

That said, it can be a bit intimidating the first time. I've got to scoop so you can stop taking all those Ubers, save money, and people-watch your heart out. And all advice has been vetted by native Mexico City residents, so you're getting the real deal.

Read on if you want to know EVERYTHING about taking the bus in Mexico City...

TYPES OF BUSES

There are five types of buses in Mexico City:

1. Camion
A medium-sized bus. Usually green or purple. Runs on major streets/routes.
2.  Microbus (also called pesero)
Smaller bus that runs on more minor routes/streets. They stop frequently and can be quite slow.

3. Combi
Vans that take similar routes to microbuses but since they fill up quickly, they don't stop as much.
So it can be faster to take them.

4. Trolebus (or el trole for short)
Electric bus, runs only on a very few principal streets.

5. Metrobus
Bus with dedicated lane and stations.
BUS ROUTES

This one's a bit of a doozy. There's no official bus route map that I know of for the camiones, microbuses, and combis. Ask a trusted friend or get ready to do some educated guessing. Apparently Google Maps now shows some transit routes, including bus routes. This link shows you how to get directions from Google Maps, including via transit. Lifesaver!

All buses have signs in their windshields. The sign will indicate the final destination of the bus and possibly some major points along the way.

For example, the Miguel Angel de Quevedo bus near Coyoacan in the south of the city either says "Tasqueña" (going east) or "San Angel" (going west). The sign may also say "Walmart" and "Mega," which are big superstores along the route. The MAQ bus generally runs along that main street but don't be fooled--it does divert, as do all other buses generally. 

Taking the bus works best if you absolutely know you're going to either the final destination or one of the stops mentioned on the sign. If you're going somewhere else, you'll have to chance getting lost (see the "getting lost" section below) so bank in extra time to get to your destination.

The Metrobus, on the other hand, runs in its own lane in the street. There's a route map and actual stations, so you can plan ahead.

The Trolebus also has a route map. Right click on the page and click "translate to English" for an English version (this works on the Chrome browser, at least).

COST OF BUSES
  1. Camion: 5 pesos (4 pesos on selected routes like on Miquel Angel de Quevedo). There's a sign posted with the fares but feel free to ask the driver "Cuanto es?" He/she may ask you "Donde vas?" meaning: where are you going? This is because the bus sometimes costs more if you're going a longer distance. You can either indicate a cross-street ("Universidad y Division del Norte") or a major location ("Walmart").
  2. Microbus: 4 pesos, but can be more on longer routes (see above).
  3. Trolleybus: 2 pesos. Some trolleybuses are FREE. They should say "gratis" on the windowshield.
  4. Metrobus: 6 pesos.
HOW TO FLAG A BUS

Camiones, microbuses, combis, and trolebuses have their own dedicated bus shelters. However, you can flag a camion, microbus, or combi from anywhere along the route you please. Just stand on the side of the road and stick out your arm like you're flagging a taxi. Usually the bus will stop but if it's in a hurry or full it might just pass you by. For trolleybuses, you MUST wait in a bus shelter. It won't pick you up where ever.

Metrobuses have their own stations. You just stand on the platform and wait for a bus to pull up and for the doors to open. Generally, the stations are long rectangles in the middle of the street and buses run on either side (in different directions). 

You can tell the direction by looking at the digital signs on the front and sides of the buses. They function the same way as other buses in that they'll list their final destination. For example, Metrobuses that run on Insurgentes say "Indios Verdes" if they run north and "Caminero" or "Doctor Galvez" if they run south. 

The reason for different destinations is that some buses run the entire route and some only run part. Sometimes two routes can run on the same track, so a different destination can mean a different route. Carry a route map with you! Believe me, this is all not as hard as it sounds.

HOW TO PAY YOUR FARE

For camiones and microbuses hand over your money to the driver when you get on the bus. Sometimes the driver will have a "helper" who'll take your money instead and give you change if you need it--they'll probably sit beside or behind the driver and they'll let you know if you're supposed to give them the money. 

You can also enter the bus from the back door, but only if it's full at the front door. In that case, to pay your fare, just give your money to the person in front of you and say "le pasa uno, por favor" which means "please pass this." 

You can even give a bigger coin (like a 10 peso coin for a 5 peso fare) and the driver will pass your change back, which I find marvelous. People don't steal your money, or at least I've never experienced it, probably because it goes against standard Mexico City bus etiquette. 

For trolleybuses, there's a clear plastic canister by the bus driver to deposit your cash (coins only, no change given).

For combis, you pay at the end of your journey before you get out. About three blocks before your destination, pass your money through the front window and tell the driver where you got on and where you want to get off. Say "Subi en el mercado, bajo en la panaderia" (I got on at the market and I'm getting off at the bakery). Obviously, instead of mercado and panaderia you could say a cross street like "Universidad y Division del Norte."

If you're sitting at the back of the combi and you can't reach the driver, ask the person next to you to pass it up: "Le pasa, por favor. Subi en el mercado, bajo en la panaderia."

Only the Metrobus takes pre-paid cards. All other buses take cash only.

Metrobuses require a special card that you buy at Metrobus stations from the machine (the larger one that accepts bills, not the smaller machine that takes only coins). The card itself costs 10 pesos, plus your fare.

If you're in a rush and don't have a card, just loiter by the electronic charging machines, offer someone 6 pesos in change, and say this: "Te puedo pagar mi pasaje? No tengo tarjeta." Which means: "Can you pay my fare? I don't have a card." They'll probably nod, in which case you wait for them to charge their card and then follow them to the turnstiles, where they'll swipe you in.

If you have a card, just press your card on the screen on top of the turnstiles. If you need to fill up your card, there are two types of machines in each station: one that accepts only change and one that accepts both change and bills. The ones that accept only change are usually less busy. The trick with these machines is to rest your card on the screen and keep it there during the entire process--they are usually a little slow, so be patient.

GETTING CHANGE

You don't need exact change for the camiones, microbuses, and combis. Any combo of 1, 5, or 10 peso coins is okay. In a pinch, you could also use a 20 peso bill but anything higher than that is stretching it. The bus drivers usually don't have enough time or change for 50 or 100 peso bills (and forget about 200 or 500 bills, you'll get laughed at).

Trolleybuses require exact change because you have to deposit your fare in a receptacle by the driver. You can't ask the driver to give you change.

For the Metrobus, please see the section "How To Pay Your Fare" above.

BUS ETIQUETTE
  • Once you get into the bus, move as far back as you can. 
  • Because buses can get packed, it is acceptable to do a little light pushing to get out.
  • If there are two free seats together, feel free to take either the outside or inside seat. DF bus ettiquite says that if you're there first, you get to choose what seat you want. Latecomers will have to crawl over you to get the inside seat, and that's totally okay. If someone wants to sit on the inside seat, they will probably stand by you, looking at the seat. Or they'll say "con permiso," which means "excuse me."
  • In the combi, people tend to be very friendly (because you're all squished into a small space). It's customary to greet everyone when getting on the bus with a "buenas dias/tardes." It's optional to repeat that salutation when you get off the bus. People will be happy to give you directions/help you in a combi.
GETTING LOST

Getting totally lost on a bus is a rite of passage in Mexico City. Unless it's late and you're in an area with few people, you'll be fine. As soon as you realize you're lost, ask a fellow passenger for directions.

The safest person to ask is an elderly senora (woman), however she likely won't speak much English. In that case, ask a younger woman who will probably have at least a bit of English.

You can ask them something like: "Quiero ir a x (name cross-street, like 'Division del Norte y Rio Churubusco'). Como puedo ir?" which means, "I want to go to Division del Norte and Rio Churubusco. How do I get there?"

This unfortunately requires some Spanish to understand the answer. The driver is probably going to say something like "Baja aqui/en Division del Norte y toma el camion que dice 'Tasquena'." Which means, "Get off here/at Division del Norta and take the bus that says 'Tasquena.'"

Things not to do:
  • Ask the driver for directions, unless you're a guy and on a principal route. Not to freak you out, but like in any foreign country if you look different and say you're lost, you could be taken advantage of.
  • Stay on a bus, especially a combi (van), until everyone else gets off. The driver might say he'll help you and get you to your destination, but instead drive you somewhere else and try to sexually assault you. This has actually happened to people.
If you're lost, just get off the bus and stand by a business that's open like a taco stand or corner store while you figure out your next move. 

Get data ahead of time for your smartphone so you can use Google Maps to orient yourself. And definitely download Uber, which is super popular and affordable in Mexico City, to rescue you if need be. Oh! Get 150 pesos off your first two rides with this Uber promo code from my husband, Miguel (he's always the one who orders our Ubers because my smartphone is so old haha).

On the Metrobus, it's easy to backtrack. Just get off the bus, cross the platform and take a bus back where you came from. There are also guards at each station who can help you. Since you don't need to exit the guarded station if you get lost, you'll be safe if you lose your way.

HOW TO GET OFF THE BUS

Camiones and microbuses have buttons above or near the back door. Press it when approaching your destination, and the driver will stop at the next corner (or thereabouts). Your stop doesn't need to be a bus shelter, it can be any street corner you want.

Same deal with trolleybuses, except you can only get off at dedicated bus shelters.

With combis, you have to tell the driver when you want to get off (see How To Pay Your Fare for more details).

Metrobuses have their own stops. The doors open, you get off, case closed.

Getting off a crowded bus in Mexico City is a bit of an art. The key is planning. I try to always sit near the back as close to the back door as possible. If I'm getting off soon or I know the bus is going to get super crowded, I stand right by the door.

If you're sitting somewhere and the bus gets hella-crowded, start making your way to the door as soon in advance as you can. A polite "con permiso" to your seat mate or whoever happens to be in front of you will clear the way immediately. People are generally very accommodating to your need to get by.

If you get to the exit and there's still someone standing in front of you, ask: "Vas a bajar en la siguente?" which means "are you getting off at the next station?" If they say no, they will move to let you by. If they say yes, then wait behind them.

SAFETY

I dealt with this topic briefly in the "Getting Lost" section. Buses in Mexico City are generally very safe but as in any big city, shit can go down.

Here are some tips to stay safe:
  • Keep your purse/bag close and in front of you. 
  • Don't put your phone/wallet in your back pocket.
  • Don't travel with your passport. If you have to bring it, buy a travel pouch to put around your waist.
  • Don't tell the driver you're lost.
  • Don't travel at night until you're familiar with the city.
  • Don't be the last person on the bus.
  • The first car of the Metrobus is for women only. Usually the seats are pink (haha) and there are guards at the stations to enforce this rule. I've never been touched on public transit but it happens. 
  • Try not to take the bus in the less-safe fringe cities of Neza, Iztapalapa etc. There's a higher occurrence of assault and robbery in these zones. Take an Uber or the subway if there's a station close to your destination (you don't want to be walking too much).
Resources:
  • Moon Mexico City: highly recommended resource
  • Lonely Planet Mexico 14th Ed.: the definitive country guide
  • Get $25 in Airbnb credit if you sign up using this link. There are some great Airbnbs to stay at in Mexico City.
  • Get 150 MXN (or your local equivalent) on your first two Uber rides by using this link (thanks to my husband, Miguel). Uber is a great way to get rescued if you get lost on the bus.
Do you like taking the bus in Mexico City? What's been your experience so far? Have any more questions for me? Comment below!

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