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Routes Around the World: School Buses in Central America By Anson Stewart

As I rode into Guatemala’s capital from the outlying department of Petén,

the trickle of former school buses driving in the opposite direction grew into a torrent for the evening commute. Te Guatemala City metropolitan area is Central America’s largest with a population exceeding 3 million. Many com- muters rely on the city’s massive fleet of retired school buses to travel to and from work, so, in the evening, hundreds of buses stream out of the city to the suburbs. Rutas extraurbanas, the buses serving suburban areas like Villa Nueva, San Raymundo or Antigua, primarily use Type C conventional buses on Ford or International chassis. Tese buses tend to be in comparatively good condition with new coats of paint, grilles and warning lights. I even saw a couple buses in Antigua that had their “School Bus” head signs replaced with fancy LED displays scrolling their destinations. Guatemalan laws, which prohibit the operation of imported buses older

than a certain age, help to ensure that these suburban buses are in relatively good repair. Te same does not seem to hold true for the Type D transit- style buses that ply the numbered urban routes in the center of Guatemala City. Painted a uniform shade of dull red and outfitted with rear doors, these buses are generally older and more run down. In addition to the demand- ing conditions they face in the city center’s traffic, some of these buses are not subject to the age restrictions on imported buses because they were manufactured domestically. From 1965 to 1983, Blue Bird operated a fac- tory in Guatemala City that built buses on a locally-produced chassis. Today, the Blue Bird logo can be seen everywhere in Guatemala City, on buses im- ported from the United States as well as on buses with the locally-produced Mercedes-Benz and Hino chassis. While these school buses are ubiquitous today, they may not be around

for much longer. Te Municipality of Guatemala City is replacing the old buses with an ambitious bus rapid transit system. Te first Transmetro line employing custom-built articulated Volvo/Busscar buses opened in 2007. Te second line opened last August, and both have been quite popular. Passengers appreciate the comfort of the new buses and the presence of a police officer on every Transmetro bus. Safety is a significant concern for bus riders in Guatemala City. Gangs target

bus operators for extortion and bomb the buses of those who refuse to pay, as occurred in a January attack that killed nine passengers. Such crime is even more common in the capital of El Salvador, which was my next destination. When the national government there declared strict new anti-gang legisla- tion in September, the gangs threatened increased attacks on buses, and the majority of drivers would not make their runs for days on end. Perhaps the hostility of this environment helps explain one of the most common decora- tions I saw on Blue Bird All-Americans and Tomas Saf-T-Liners in the streets of San Salvador – intimidating-looking roof-mounted shark fins. After traveling through these countries, I was thankful to arrive safely in

Honduras. Tere, many of the imported school buses still retain their stan- dard yellow paint schemes, and I appreciated this familiarity as I continued my journey south to Nicaragua. ■

Stewart is STN’s global correspondent. His current project is “School Bus Migrations: Recycling Transit in the Global South.” Visit for more.

Antigua, Guatemala: Conventional buses on Ford and International chassis, typical of many of the intercity buses in Guatemala, lined up in the colonial city of Antigua. 23

Guatemala City: Type A driving past the National Cathedral in Guatemala City

San Salvador: One of the many Blue Bird All Americans in San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador

Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Many of the retired school buses in Honduras, like these ones parked at the Alambra Terminal in Tegucigalpa, seemed to retain their original paint schemes.

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