Before I go ahead, I’d like to make it perfectly clear that the above title is not an exaggeration in any way. The Honduran taxis are very, very bad, as I’ve shown to you before, but with them most of the deaths tend to be at the hands of gang violence. In the case of the “Buses Amarillos”, the buses themselves are doing the killing.
Backstory time: the first buses that were used for public transport in Honduras were, naturally, VW T1 transporters. Before them if you wanted to travel you had something called “Baronesas” which, as far as I can tell, were US commercial chassis with wooden frames and long boards affixed as makeshift benches. My great-grandmother would tell me how when she moved to the city from Comayagua in 1933 (a distance of roughly 56 miles), it took her two day’s travel to get here due to the terrible roads. I presume ride comfort was also not particularly good. The T1’s must’ve been a revelation for all those poor souls previously forced to bounce about while sitting on wooden planks.
However, the T1’s didn’t have size to their advantage so other Central American manufacturers got in the business of buses. The most successful of this was Rosmo. Rosmo was the creation of Italian immigrant Severino Rosmo Barrato, who emigrated from Italy to Guatemala and started producing wooden bodies for commercial chassis in 1935 and went on to become the biggest supplier of bodies for commercial bodies in Central America, making bodies for Mercedes-Benz, Isuzu and Hino Buses. Some of his legacy with steel bodies can still be seen rolling in the Tegucigalpa streets, such as this much newer Mercedes…
…And this Hino.
Even after the import of old school buses became widespread, Rosmo soldiered on, but moved upmarket and now does the bodies for buses intended for traveling across the continent. These are much more luxurious affairs though, and not really suited for intra-city use. Having said that, they still have a “Convencional” line so you can turn your international 4700 into a bus that can carry anything between 48 and 60 passengers.
To be honest with you, I have no idea who came with the bright idea of importing old American school buses, such as the favorite Blue Bird All-American, to use as public transport here. Was it an American with a couple dozen surplus school buses and an entrepreneurial spirit? Or was it something concocted over here by a similarly cunning Central American who would rather not fork up the cash for a new chassis and body? In any case, from the early ‘80s and all the way through the mid 90’s we saw a veritable flood of decommissioned school buses that still had some life in them to be used as public transport.
On paper at least it’s actually quite a sound thought they had. American school buses were at the very least similarly comfortable, not to mention almost certainly cheaper to buy and often had more room for passengers than a locally produced bus. This was good for more profits; it’s not like the Cummins and Detroit-Diesel units that powered them would give any more trouble than a similar vintage Hino Engine, in fact it may be more reliable and need less maintenance.
That’s where the problems start. You see, people in the Honduran public transport systems have never been very keen on maintenance, for which I mean to say, they never do maintenance. Completely bald tires, engines held on with string, buckets in place of seats and failing brakes are the order of the day. The image above is of a bus that actually lost its rear axle to the forces of entropy and neglect. For that reason they have earned the name “Ataudes Rodantes” or rolling coffins. Users pay about Lps.4 (about $0.18) for the privilege of playing Russian roulette in one.
Of course, the government decided to crack down on this, imposing mandatory inspections and sanctions. This proved to be about as effective as trying to put out an Australian Bushfire with a Turkey Baster. Just one example: legally speaking large buses must have smoke stacks so that the diesel smoke goes away from the people driving behind it. I actually make a point to notice when buses have those as it is so rare and I’ve gotten many many clouds of barely-working diesel engines that are running absurdly rich. I’m sure my lungs are very thankful for those.
Speaking of driving behind them, we also have a problem regarding bus stops. The idea is that buses would stop a predetermined locations where bays were built. You know, like in most every civilized city. But sadly this has escaped the grasp of the drivers and the passengers alike. The passengers, by not bothering to walk to the bus stations and instead making wherever they bundle into a group of three a bus station, and the drivers by feeding them and stopping wherever they please. It has been pointed out to me on some occasions that if there’s a two-lane road going somewhere I’ll hog the left lane. In a fit of Malicious Compliance, I’ll switch to the right lane where not a minute later there will be a bus blocking the lane. So I have to merge to the left lane where all the smart people can keep a constant speed, overtake the bus and move to the right where the game would begin all over again. It easily makes any given trip be twice as long.
Every government in office since 1995 or so has said it’ll get rid of them, but at most what they have done is introduce a new kind of “Executive” buses, which will have their day of reckoning at my hands in a later date. Suffice to say, it was in concept a repeat of the yellow buses and actually made it all get worse.
Even worse, some of these decaying yellow deathtraps aren’t limited to the city but roam outside to the countryside doing runs from one major city to another. We aren’t talking about interstates here but roads that are rather more similar to Route 66. An unmarked, unlit Route 66 with sheer cliffsides on one side and walls made of rock on the other. Countless accidents have happened because of overloading or brake failures, but mostly is a combination of those plus excess speed.
Such a shame really. I’m pretty sure with some proper maintenance they’d be unkillable and rather adept at doing the rounds they’re made to do. As it stands however, we’re merely adding potential human casualties to their eventual deaths.
(Most of the Photos in this Article are courtesy of KIMI CROMARTIE’s Photobucket, without which this article would’ve been considerably more boring)