Here is some valuable “nuts and bolts” information to help with your adventures riding the bus.
Fares and Cards
The standard fare to ride the bus is currently 25 cents, with the fare for tercera edad or retirees being half that at 12 cents. Children under six ride for free.
The bus cooperativas have recently begun requesting an increase in fares; the latest demand was 42 cents. This was immediately decried by the public and a municipal commission has been formed (June 2015) in order to deflect responsibility for the inevitable recommendation to raise fares; the commission is due to report back it’s findings in January 2016.
You can pay the fare with coins, or you can purchase a rechargeable SIT card from any number of locations throughout the city.
Pay with Coins
To date, coins are still accepted and may be the most common form of payment for bus fares. There have been rumors after the TranVia is completed, that the buses will go to card-only like the train may be, and stop taking coins. We hope this doesn’t happen, although we have cards and use them daily. Sometimes, when you have a pocket full of nickels, the bus is a good way to spend them.
The coin box is not always in a standardized place in the bus, so once you locate it, Hang on to something while dropping your coins in one by one, and a tone will sound after the fare has been paid. Like in any slot, the coins can get jammed and back up, pay attention in case this happens to you, if you cannot dislodge them yourself, let the driver know since chances are he has something to use as a poker.
If you only have a 50 cent piece or dollar coin, the drivers cannot make change. Show the driver and say “por dos” or “un dólar”, and drop in a larger coin, you’ll hear the tone will sound twice or four times. Now, you have to make your own change; to do this, you need to stand near the front, and ask the next passengers “¿Tiene veinticinco centavos?” before they put their money into the slot. I’ll talk more about making change this way later; you may want to wait until you see a local doing this in order to boost your confidence that this is regular.
Riding the bus using a rechargeable card eliminates the need for change and makes getting on the bus faster. We all have cards in our house and use them daily, recharging them weekly.
You can buy the cards for $1.70 at the SIT main office off of Gran Columbia, the ETAPA offices, or one of the relatively few tiendas that feature the SIT Tarjeta signs. After the one-time $1.70 card purchase, you can add money to it at dozens of tiendas at convenient locations throughout the city.
The advantage of buying a card at the main ETAPA office is that you can register it in your name at the time of purchase while you charge it. If you already have a card, simply take it into the office and register it. If you lose your card and it hasn’t been registered in your name, then you lose all the money on it; however, if a registered card is lost, all you have to do is to return to one of the main offices and show your ID. They will reissue a card with the same balance as the one you lost.
When you enter the bus, you hold your card up to the reader, and it either says Gracias or Tarifa de descuenta (for tercera edad) or estudiante (for students). Your only concern is if it says Aserta su tarjeta otra vez (re-run your card) or Tarifa Insuficiente (insufficient funds). Bear in mind that since the bus cards’ communication with the reader is disrupted by other cards with chips; specifically, if you keep your real Cedula (if you get one) in your wallet or purse, it will cause the bus card not to be read correctly. There may be other cards that disrupt too, but I haven’t had any other do it yet. Also, in order not to lose my Cedula, I had a full color copy made and laminated, and therefore I can keep both in my wallet without issue.
All of the cards are basically the same, except for the cards for tercera edad.
Tercera edad (literally “third age”) is the term for senior citizens or people in the “third stage” of life. Ecuador has many benefits for seniors and the bus system is no exception. Fares for tercera edad are only half price (12 cents)! This is not limited to people with their cedulas, show your passport and you too can get the discounted fares.
While you can buy cards from the tiendas that recharge them, you are going to have to go either to the ETAPA office at the corner of Gran Colombia and Tarqui or at the SIR offices located just off of Gran Colombia near Los Capulies and Los Molles. Registered fare cards for people over 65 are special, although they cost the same as the regular cards. A photo is taken of people over 65 and added to the back of the card. This is to prevent someone from getting the discount that doesn’t qualify. Although, I’ve seen younger people using them, so it isn’t like there is time on the bus for much enforcement.