Tackling public transport
For those who have the RD$50+ to pay for a private taxi, there is no city better served. A call to one of the many companies listed in the Yellow Pages will get a car to you 24 hours a day usually in less than five minutes. You can order your car with air-conditioning or even be picky and request a driver who speaks English.
But for those who need to be constantly on the go and cannot afford a private taxi, there is the public transport system. To the uninitiated, Santo Domingo’s system of public transit can be intimidating—cars that look like they should be in scrap yards, minibuses with shouting conductors, or large overflowing buses all vying for the commuter’s fare.
But although the appearance—and sometimes the reality—can be chaotic, and the rides far from luxurious, getting around by public transit in Santo Domingo is usually fairly quick and easy. And at three pesos a ride for the bus and five to ten pesos for the “multi-fare paying taxi”, it is far less expensive than a tax you could call by phone.
Here’s a primer for tackling public transit.
Catching a ride
To get a ride on the city’s public transportation system, just stand on the side of any relatively major street and let your fingers do the walking. Stick your hand out and sort of wave in the direction you want to go. For example, to go straight, flick your finger parallel to the street. Observe more experienced riders for style tips.
Many vehicles just travel the one road, then turn around and go back. Others will turn onto other main streets. For example, some cars head west on Av. Independencia, then turn north on Av. Máximo Gómez. To catch one of those, point your thumb back over your shoulder. Drivers and conductors will help you by doing their own pointing.
Often you will need to take a couple of separate rides to get where you want to go, and as long as you know where that is, it isn’t too difficult. Stick to main roads if you’re uncertain, and ask the driver to tell you when you reach your crossroad.
Limited knowledge of Spanish is no impediment to riding public transit. There are only a few words you need to know:
Say Derecho? if you want to go straight ahead. If you want to know if the vehicle goes as far as a specific street, ask Hasta la Kennedy? (or whatever street). The only answer you need to know is a nod or a shake of the head.
There are several ways to say you want to get out of the vehicle. In the buses or minibuses or even in cars, if the radio’s blaring you might have to scream. Don’t be shy, or you may end up somewhere you’d rather not be. General “stop” expressions include Déjame! (Let me out!) and Dónde pueda! (Wherever you can!).
To stop at the next corner, say En la esquina! At bigger intersections, you might want to say Antes de cruzar! or Después de cruzar! (Before or after you cross the intersection.) Hysterical screaming would probably work equally as well as any of these suggestions.
Your car, sir
There are several kinds of vehicles plying the public transport trade. The carros públicos are regular cars, some as much as 20 years old. They are usually in varying states of decomposition: cracked or missing windows, no door handles, holes in the floor, smoke coming from various and unexpected places.
Expect to sit, depending on the size of the car, with two or three other people in the front seat (including the driver), and three or four (or five) in the back.
Pollitos are yellow Nissan minivan taxis and are relatively new, with most having been imported in 2000 to improve the public transport system. Come 2002, expect the Garzas or white Nissan minivan taxis to go into service. These are being imported by the Hipolito Mejia administration, also to improve public transport.
Guagua usually refers to minivans or minibuses. The vans are often in worse shape than the cars, although the minibuses can actually be quite recent models. The same principle of seating applies: if it doesn’t look like another person can sit there, they probably will anyway.
Guaguas normally have a cobrador, the guy who hangs out the door yelling his destination at people on the side of the street. He also takes your fare, and tells you where to sit for optimum sardine-like capacity. Sometimes he tells jokes, too, and he almost always flirts with the women.
The big OMSA buses run on main avenues like Independencia, Nuñez de Cáceres, Winston Churchill, John F. Kennedy and 27 de Febrero. The Gustavo Mejia Ricart bus commutes through the Naco area. At rush hours, it’s three people to each seat, and as many as can stand in the aisle. If you’re lucky, you stand or sit near the front or back door, to avoid having to squeeze past dozens of people to get out.
That’s the advantage of the carros públicos, in spite of their sorry condition. You never have to climb over more than four people when you want to get out. Another advantage to the carros publicos is that they will stop where ever you need them to. The OMSA buses have fixed stops.
The normal fare on the buses is three pesos for each very long route. The carros publicos will charge RD$5 for a short route. Sometimes the cars will charge you double if it’s a long journey. Check to see what the other passengers are paying. Try to have small change with you. You can book a carro publico to your destination. He will charge about RD$40 for the ride.
The important thing when riding public transit is not to lose your sense of humor. Dominicans generally find it all pretty funny, too.
You want to avoid taking one of these whenever you can. These warriors of the road compete with the cars by taking fare-payers straight to their destination. The accident rate of these vehicles, though, is by far higher than that of any other kind of vehicle. Indeed, one of every two accidents in the Dominican Republic involves motorcycle bike riders. Motoconchos, though, will take you where you need to go and are usually used for short rides. They charge RD$10 per ride. They are more popular in the towns than in the capital city and add significantly to the noise pollution of these towns.