Colectivos (public buses)

Using the public bus system in Buenos Aires can be daunting and is a bit of a misnomer, as the system isn't public at all but a collection of independently owned operators. Some of the routes are 50 KM and more, and wind their way through many little barrios and neighbouring towns. There can be different routes for the same bus lines, and if you don't pay attention to the sign on the lower left hand corner of the windscreen detailing its routing, you may be in for a surprise. This being said, the system works and is happily used by many hundreds of thousands of commuters daily.

A typical Buenos Aires Bus (colectivo)

If you will use the bus even moderately buy a 20 peso (as of March 2014) SUBE pass, and load it with some pesos.  It can be reloaded as needed. It may reduce the trip cost, and is certainly more convenient than acquiring coins. The system tells you how many pesos are left each time you tap it, and it can be used on the bus and subway. Be sure and keep your print out ticket for audit purposes.  You can be fined if you have no ticket, and an on board audit was witnessed by several. (Update March 2014: tickets don't seem to be given on any busses when using a SUBE card).

the following advice was found to be very useful, but way down the author refers to a web site that is very good. 

Before you even venture onto a bus, you'd be foolish not to lay out the $2 or $3 ARS it costs to get a bus guide. The “Guia “T”  de Bolsillo” is published annually and includes all the information you'll need, and then some, to effectively make use of this practical and cheap method of transportation. They can be purchased at most newstands around the city, but especially around Retiro Station. There are different versions, some with a spiral binder and others a bit more cumbersome but with larger type and maps.

Using the Guia "T"

To use the guide, first look up the street from which you will be departing. It's located at the beginning of the book. You wil see a Map Page and a set of co-ordinates listed next to the street name. Were you looking for 1755 Vincente Lopez, for example,  the numbers listed to the left of the name refer to the range of street addresses, whereas the 29-D-1 on the right refers to Page 29, Co-ordinates D-1. 

Now go to the map section and find the one listed as well as the co-ordinates. Each page is divided into quadrants , the left with the bus lines and the right with the maps. If you are departing from the area within quadrant B3 on the map page, you look to the left and find its match. The corresponding B3 quadrant on the left page will list all the buses that operate in this area. Now you repeat this procedure with your final desination. Find its quadrant on a map page, match it up with the bus page on the left, and see if there are any bus lines common to your departure point. It may take a little detective work, but eventually you'll find a bus that departs or arrives in a zone not too far from your ideal points. 

Map on the right, divided in quadrants matched by those on the left containing the bus lines operating in that zone.

Map and bus locator

The guide also has a listing of all the bus lines that operate in Buenos Aires with colour photos that show you the unique paint scheme each bus line features. This makes it easier to identify a bus when you do a last second mad dash to board. The listing goes into minute detail, listing every street the bus uses as it winds its way to its final destination. It's another useful tool in doing the detective work necessary to find the ideal line that will get you to where you want to go in the most direct manner.

Street by street listed, both outbound and ingoing. They use a slightly different route in either direction due to most streets being uni-directional. 

Internet Links to Bus Routing:

There is now a government-provided Web site at http://mapa2.buenosaires.gob.ar (Spanish only) which allows you to enter your starting and ending addresses, and the Web site provides a list of options using both the bus and subway systems, and tells you where you need to walk if necessary.  The travel time for each option is provided, but there is no time schedule provided.  Note that this Web site tells you to go to an intersection to find a bus stop, but often the bus stop will not be at the corner; it will be down the street so it's useful to note which direction the bus is going so you can walk down in that direction to look for the bus stop.

There is also another computer program from Omnilineas which helps you identify which bus to take to any destination in the city.  It makes using the Guide so much easier, so they work well together.  Using the link below,  under "City Buses"  you highlight your location, and then move to your destination.  The program then selects and lists buses that go near the routing you want.  In many cases it offers several options so you can select the appropriate route depending on what you wish to see along the way.  It then has an inverse search which helps you identify the best way to get back to your starting point.  This is very nice as many streets are one way and your return trip may require that you go a block or two away to catch it.  Its only downfall (as far as I can tell) is that it shows the route, but not the exact location of the stops, but they seem to be every two blocks so you won't go too far out of your way.  Since this Web site shows the route of the bus, it can be used in conjunction with the government Web site to help locate the bus stops. This a very valuable tool and most helpful.

 http://www.omnilineas.com/argentina/b...

 There's also an excellent iPhone app called "Como Llego" that takes a starting and ending address and displays routes via foot, bus, subway, bike, or car. Available for free via iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ba-co....

 

Once on board

Once you've decided on which bus line or # you wish to take, you'll make your way to the street on which it's listed as running and find the appropriate bus stop. Most of the time buses that stop on a designated corner share the same bus stop and/or shelter. Not so in Buenos Aires. There are far too many buses, so they stop at designated areas in the middle of blocks as well as every available corner, each being unique to a few bus lines. Be aware that here people queue to the right of the bus stop and not the left as in North America.

Here you see the typical bus stop sign. Not only does it list the bus #, but also the major streets and/or points of interest on its route.

Buses in Buenos Aires do not automatically stop when they see passengers waiting at one of their designated stops. You must flag them down. Just show the driver the palm of your hand, as if you were gesturing him to stop or slow down. Unlike buses in many areas, drivers in Buenos Aires will almost always stop, no matter how full they are. Perhaps they work on commission. Since there are so many buses that ply the same routes, if your bus seems too full, wait a few minutes for the next one. It will often be as empty as the previous one was full. Riding an emptier bus will also hinder a pickpocket who favours the crowded one to ply his trade. 

Once you board the bus, tell the driver your destination (cross streets or point of interest), allowing him to program the automatic machine with the correct fare. The reason for telling the driver your final destination is that bus lines charge less for short runs and more for longer ones. The average fare as of March 2014 seems to be $2.70 ARS for relatively short runs. Paying less than you are supposed to may subject you to a fine if an inspector boards the bus and discovers your ticket was a few centivos short.   If your Spanish is poor it's useful to write the name of your destination down or show the driver the directions on the Como Llego app on your phone. 

Once your fare has been determined, you use the automatic machine, usually located behind the driver, and tap your SUBE card or insert your coins. The machine does not accept paper currency, but does provide change. A ticket may be dispensed together with any applicable change. Keep the receipt if one is dispensed, in case the bus inspector makes his rounds, find a seat and enjoy the view.  No tickets are dispensed when the SUBE card is used.

Buses are generally not air conditioned, but even in other countries they may not be. There are a number of smaller micro buses on some routes that are air conditioned and they have a slightly higher fare. Buenos Aires bus drivers tend to speed, and the resulting breeze from the open windows is usually refreshing enough, pollution notwithstanding.

Automatic fare collector and ticket dispenser on the left behind the driver.   

Ticket Dispenser 

When you're ready to leave the bus, simply buzz the driver using one of the buttons located on many of the vertical poles and depart using the back door. If the bus is too crowded to make your way back, or you're sitting close to the driver, using the front door is acceptable.  The drivers don't seem to like stopping so don't expect the bus to always come to a complete halt before people start to get off!  Having said that make sure to use the colectivos - for the tourist they are a cheap and fun way to explore this great city.