Bus Safety | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Bus Safety

With the extensive bus system in Mexico, you can go anywhere that you want to go. There's lots of buses and they're cheap. Air travel is expensive. Passenger train service, once the best way to travel in Mexico, essentially no longer exists except for excursion trains through places like the Copper Canyon.

You can take first class buses non-stop between major cities. They have bathrooms, aircraft-type reclining seats, movies (mostly B-movies that the driver starts at whatever point it left off when he entered the terminal), and some buses have attendants that offer sandwiches and drinks. Second class buses get you there cheaper, without all the amenities. Other buses ply the same routes, but stop along the road wherever people are waiting. Still others travel the back roads, providing transportation for campesinos. They're rustic, but forever gone is the experience of sharing a seat with a crate of chickens. Maybe in China, but no longer in Mexico.

In San Miguel, we have municipal buses: Worn out diesels belching black smoke roaring through their worn-out mufflers. The interiors smell like an auto mechanic's garage, reeking of motor oil spilled on the exhaust manifold. But they run frequently, and you can go anywhere in town for $4 pesos.

Fleets of charter buses park anywhere they can just outside of the centro. They bring Mexican tourists from the great cities: Mexico, Monterrey, Guadalajara. They bring schoolchildren from towns large and small to visit historic San Miguel de Allende, the birthplace independence from Spain.

Buses arguably are the most important form of transportation in Mexico. But are they safe? ¿Quién sabe? I don't think anybody compiles statistics. I don't think anybody cares.

They don't seem safe. Local buses have eroded almost to the limits of functionality. Cracked windshields, bald tires, squealing brakes are bad enough. What deeper faults lurk?

Bus drivers appear to be fearless risk-takers. At the Centro de Autobuses, they stop and pray at a convenient Guadalupe shrine before climbing into their seats and barreling down the shoulder-less highways, blowing through speed limits and passing on curves and hills. They drive with no concerns. After all, their lives, and those of their passengers now are in las manos de Dios.

A couple of months ago, the brakes failed on a busload of tourists traveling down a winding grade in the Sierra Gorda. Scores were killed. Only one little girl survived, her body shielded by her Grandmother as the bus skidded off the highway and plummeted into a steep ravine. It was the highest bus accident death toll ever. The owner of the bus went into hiding, to avoid certain imprisonment for criminal negligence.

High speed highway buses have one visible safety feature. When I first saw these gadgets, I couldn't figure out what they were...

Bus01

What we've got here is a teardrop-shaped meachanism attached via a bearing to the hub, so it doesn't rotate with the wheel. A metal tube leads away into the darkened reaches of the undercarriage.

A closer look reveals another tube leading from the tire's valve stem to the teardrop-shaped object.

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Now, it's function is obvious. It's an air pressure sensor that warns the driver if any tire starts losing air.

Sensors like this are not required on semis. A highly visible result of this oversight is the alarming number of overturned tractor-trailer rigs you see alongside the highways.

In the U. S., tire air pressure sensors are required on all buses and semis. But you don't see them, because these high-tech sensors are little widgets that mount inside each tire, and which send air pressure data to the driver via radio.

I noticed one bus that had brought a high school class to San Miguel, parked across from the new multimillion-peso parking garage, (recently completed on Calle Cardo, and which apparently was designed so that buses can't fit into it).

Bus02

What is the meaning of all the maple leaves painted on its side? It looks like a World War II plane displaying the number of kills.

The first thing that came to my mind was, "Number of Canadians run over."
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