Busing the Bay: First Impressions of Public Transportation in Vallarta

Arriving in Vallarta, we experienced limited Internet, spotty cell service and had no patience. With no way to look up bus schedules, I did it the old-fashioned way. I walked to the corner and watched for buses, reading the destinations and noting the bus routes.

I won the lottery:

There are two types of new buses in service on many of the routes (A/C or no A/C). After standing for ten minutes in the broiling sun, when a bus approaches, you strain your eyes; new or old bus? When it’s the A/C bus, jackpot!

My biggest win to date was when I embarked upon a forty minute ride to the Malecon on a new A/C bus. I exited the bus, conducted my business and caught the exact same A/C bus for my return trip.

When winning the lottery is not always great:

It’s 10pm and we are heading home when a new bus arrives. The A/C is set to eighteen Celsius and, based on a lifetime of experience, eighteen Celsius is cold. We did not move here to be cold.  My wife literally “gave me the cold shoulder” on that trip.

Life is not fair.

Boarding the Bus:

The new buses are all “exact change only”; you deposit your coins into a slot, one at a time. No handing the driver money, receiving your ticket and change as he pulls away shifting gears, and changing lanes. Now, you wait for everyone to individually insert their coins into the slot. The ticket prints out (most of the time) but many people leave their ticket dangling there. When the coin slot is jammed you put money into the plastic box used for special fares and coupons. No tickets are issued.

Another time I was on a new bus that became stuck in a sinkhole; no ticket required to board the replacement bus. On a different occasion, on an older bus, the bus stalled and could not be restarted, even with all of us pushing. (Just kidding!) Using my ticket I boarded the next bus. Bus rides are seldom dull.

What “Exact Change Only” Means:

A passenger boarded with a twenty peso note and was told to put the bill in the special fare box. The light was red so he exited and reentered before the light changed, but still with no change. Asking people on the bus, he received two ten peso coins and triumphantly marched back to the driver and inserted his coin into the slot. He then looked for his change. It was fun to see the look on his face as he finally understood what “exact change” meant. And he took a seat without taking his ticket.

Safety First:

The new A/C buses have a bottom step that slides out to facilitate easier, safer boarding, amazing idea. Why only some of the buses? Drivers encourage you to exit from the rear, but there is no extra sliding step at the back, so you are on your own exiting the bus. Cost cutting measure? Design flaw?

Lessons Learned:

Hoard your change, even your 50 centavo coins.

Buy a Unibus Innova card from somewhere, (let us know where / how) and use it instead of change.

Carry cash and the Innova card as the old buses may not have the card readers.

The A/C buses have soft cushioned seats, the other new ones, hard plastic.

Be careful exiting at the back, it’s a long-step down.

It’s always fun riding a bus.

Editors note: The Unibus Innova card can be purchased from a ticket dispensing machine located at Plaza Caracol, the Pitillal plaza, Lazaro Cardenas park and at the UGD campus. You can also top up your Innova pass to a maximum of 200 pesos at the same machines, in addition to a machine located at Sam’s Club. This information is ever changing so it’s best to look online at www.unibuspv.com.mx/innovacard where you can also live chat with someone if necessary.

Bruce Howells on Email
Bruce Howells
Bruce es un canadiense jubilado, que junto con su esposa Velma, tomó una "mulligan" en la vida y escapó del frío de Canadá y se instaló en Vallartazona. Cumpliendo un retirosueño de no conducir más, Bruce utilizará transportatio públicon para recorrer la bahía y contar sus historias aquí. Consejos e itinerarios bienvenidos. Correo electrónico: busbanderasbay