Bus Stop Outtakes: Buses of Ecuador

Last spring we took a vacation in Ecuador. The itinerary included islands, mountains, rain forests, and historic cities. It was my first overseas trip in a long time, and our first big international travel without kids and with another couple. I was so busy with planning, I didn’t think much about the automotive landscape, until we arrived.

The cars were fascinating, and I’ll try to get to those in a future CC, but the buses were eye-catching as well. Our first ten days or so after arrival were spent on the Galapagos Islands (Dockside Classic note here: we travelled between islands on a French-built catamaran, with a John Deere motor). Many of the islands are uninhabited by humans, and have no roads, but the most populous island has a population of about 20,000 people and a decent road network, with many cars, motorcycles and buses. Here is one of the fancier buses I spotted on that island. It’s an Ecuadorian Buscars brand, made by Carrocerias Buscars in Duran, and I believe this example had a powertrain by Hino, Toyota’s commercial vehicle division. But it definitely had “Style And Elegance”.

Our tour used this more modest Mitsubishi Fuso. Like almost every vehicle we rode in in Ecuador, it had a manual transmission. Next to it is another common tour vehicle, a Hyundai minivan. Not bus-related, but I also saw at least two Kia Soul electric cars on this island – they seemed like a suitable way to get around.

But not necessarily the most economical. Ecuador uses the US dollar as currency, and though everything else is metric, they use the US gallon for gasoline. Fuel prices are subsidized, and they are the same throughout the country … even on the Galapagos Islands, 600 miles offshore. $1.03 per gallon for diesel, $1.48 for regular, and $2.32 for premium. I did see quite a few hybrids, and a taxi driver explained that they are exempt from import duty (or the duty is much lower) so they are attractive despite low fuel prices.

In the capital city, Quito, we visited the wonderful city museum, which had very well-done displays, both full-sized and scaled dioramas, on the city’s history. This was a model of one the city’s first buses, about 15″ long. Looks like a Ford chassis cab to me, despite the lack of a logo. Perhaps the model maker wanted to avoid any corporate branding, or perhaps it’s not a Ford. Any ideas?

Here’s another scale model, of an open top tour bus. We took the tour, which was a great way to see Quito. For a fixed fare, you can get on and ride, get off at any stop, and get back on a later bus. Unfortunately,  I kept running into the problem of trying to get an entire bus into the photo frame, as the buses are big, the streets are narrow so it’s hard to step back far enough, and there are lots of vehicles and pedestrians blocking the shots. Thus my photo of this scale model displayed at the ticket office.

But I was able to get this rear view of our tour bus. Another local brand, Miral, in this case presumably VW powered. Riding on top was pretty exciting. We were frequently warned to duck as the bus passed under low hanging utility lines, and at one point the conductor had to come up to the open upper deck, and use a broom to push wires up (I think only low voltage phone and cable lines), one by one, as the bus crawled underneath.

The articulated buses were amazing to watch as they negotiated the narrow streets of Quito’s old town, which dates to the 16th century. Here I was able to catch the tail end as it rounded a  corner. I believe these were also Miral, Volvo-powered. In front of the bus is the most common vehicle in Quito, a Chevy Aveo taxi. And behind, the second most common, a Honda single-cylinder (125 or 250cc) police bike.

This bus didn’t seem to have any passengers, at least not yet. Not sure if it was for transporting police, or prisoners. Perhaps both. It was stationed outside the Presidential buildings in Quito, the capital. In front of it is a typical Ecuadorian police car. Every police sedan I saw was a Kia, as well as every police SUV. The police also drove Toyota Hilux and Chevy D-Max pickups.

After a few days in Quito, we took a rather harrowing articulated bus ride to a terminal on the outskirts of the city for a 2 hour ride through the mountains to a small town in the cloud forest, north and west of the city. This IMCE, another local brand, was not our bus; ours was a similar sized Hino, again with a manual transmission which our driver expertly handled, often with smooth double-clutched downshifts, on the twisting mountain highway to our destination. He didn’t hang around, but I never felt he took risks … and the dropoffs without guardrails on some of the 8000 ft passes we crossed, looked like they went a LONG way down.

On our last day in Ecuador, we hired a cab driver to take us to an outlying town to visit the market and a museum. I snapped this out the window of the cab, at a traffic light. I think those are chrome wheelcovers over painted steel wheels, to go along with the wide whitewalls.

And the stickers above the wheelwell, highlight some features of this bus: DVD, music, ABS, maybe A/C and reading lights. but I can’t decipher them all. The first might be for tinted windows, but the third from left … any ideas?