pickup trucks: cheap, efficient, thrilling mass transit

Thursday, February 28th, 2008 | transportation


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On a recent trip to Guerrero State in southern Mexico, I experienced a real collective system of transporting people cheaply and efficiently. We stayed in a rural area of coconut palm and mango plantations, a few miles south of Zihuatanejo, along the beach near a town called barra de potosi, population 300 or so. We stayed along a potholed gravel road about a mile from town. We walked the road several times to one of several small grocers miscelania and restaurants.

In order to get to bigger cities, Zihuatanejo and inland a bit, Petatlan, we needed to get to the Highway, about fifteen minutes by car or truck. A collective system of independent pickup truck drivers drive between barra de potosi and Los Achotes, on the highway, where the bigger buses run. These trucks, el camion, or pasajero, varied from an old chevy one ton with a rickety wooden bench and canopy, a reused political banner for a rain screen (rolled up, no rain) to a new nissan smaller truck with nice new wooden benches and tarp canopy. They have a few steps on the back. No real handles or anything other than a simple wooden bench. They rotated continuously throughout the day every 15 minutes, driving the five mile route during daylight hours. Children used it to get to school, fishermen to their boats, dressed up folks to town. 5 pesos or about 50 cents is what we paid for the service, total $1 for our two adults and two children, although after Olive got her hair braided they started asking for her to pay a 5 peso fare as well.

Sometimes we would be standing along the road waiting for el camion and would hitchike into the back of a passing pickup truck, normally a family inside and a friend of the folks who helped us while we were there. Severeal times we rode this way, in the open back of a pickup for free, to the town 5 miles away to catch a bus. One night we returned from Zihuatanejo by bus and were left in Los Achotes – the pasajero (trucks ) were done for the night. We took our kids and bags and sat by the side of the road. Folks in town were definitely looking and laughing at the gringos. Soon enough a rumbling old VW bug with four people inside rolled down the window – barra? the driver yelled, we kinda laughed since there were four people in there, and we were four more, with big bags with towels and beach toys etc. But we squeezed in and made good conversation smooshed together in the sweet little bug, dropping us at the door of our bungalow, tired kids and all. We gave them 50 pesos for saving our asses.

Of course open pickup trucks aren’t an option for Eau Claire, but smaller, more efficient, more frequent collective transport works down there, and will here too. Some dodge sprinters would be nice.

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