How to Take a City Bus in Mexico: Route, Fares, and What to Do

How to Take a City Bus in Mexico: Route, Fares, and What to Do

Learning how to use the public transportation system in a foreign country can be your ticket to becoming a more independent, cost-effective traveler.

Mexico’s city bus systems are more popular, more accessible, more efficient, and cheaper than city buses in many developed countries.

Hop on board, and let’s take the scenic route around the bustling world of Mexico’s urban buses.

Key Takeaways

  • The bus is an affordable way to get around in Mexico.
  • It normally costs less than 10 pesos per trip.
  • There are three main types of buses in Mexico: public buses, dedicated-lane buses, and private buses. They function similarly.
  • To take a bus in Mexico, paying by cash or a public transportation card are the most common methods.
  • While you can use many apps to check bus routes in Mexico, it’s a good idea to check with bus drivers or locals again since routes change regularly.

Pros and Cons of Buses in Mexico

Let’s take a quick look at the pros and cons of buses in Mexico.

Pros

  • Taking buses is generally cheaper than getting and maintaining a car or using ridesharing services.
  • Buses cause less pollution and traffic congestion per person than cars.
  • Some buses in Mexico have private, dedicated lanes so you can avoid traffic altogether.
  • You won’t need to worry about finding parking spots in busy areas.
  • Buses generally result in fewer fatalities per kilometer than riding a bicycle.
  • Buses usually have more extensive routes than trains.
  • Buses tend to keep running in rains that are too heavy for bikes or flash floods that are too high for cars.

Cons

  • Bus routes are less flexible and convenient than personal transportation.
  • In most major Mexican cities, according to Google Maps, bus trips tend to take about three times as long as the same trip by car or twice as long as by bike, depending on distance.
  • Urban buses in Mexico don’t run on tight schedules, and you could end up waiting two minutes or two hours.
  • During peak hours, popular bus routes get overcrowded with long boarding lines and uncomfortable trips.
  • Bus routes often change slightly without notice, although the general origin and destination usually remain mostly the same.
  • Buses in most cities don’t run at night.

Types of Buses in Mexico

We can separate most city buses in Mexico into three main types:

  • Public buses run by the city
  • Public buses with their own dedicated lanes
  • Private buses

Fares, route times, and operating schedules are usually quite similar between these options within the same city.

Here are a few differences to expect.

Public Buses

Most Mexican cities have extensive local bus networks operated by the city government. The city sets the fares, operating schedules, routes, stops, and policies.

The fare and most important stops will be displayed prominently on the front of the bus.

Besides the regular all-purpose, one-size-fits-all public buses, some cities also have limited specialized public bus lines. These include lines for women and children only, express routes with fewer stops, narrow night services, cable-powered electric buses, natural-gas-powered buses, etc.

Over the last decade, public buses have been relying on their drivers little by little.

bus in Mexico on a street
It’s very cheap to take a bus in Mexico and shouldn’t cost you more than MEX$10 per trip.

Today, in most major cities, drivers of public buses aren’t allowed to make unscheduled stops or even accept money from passengers. Instead of driver multitasking, a machine at the entrance will accept your fare or scan your transportation card when you board the bus.

Although public buses are a little safer and more regular than private buses, public bus drivers aren’t immune from fatigue or road rage.

Driving in Mexico’s climate and culture can be wearying. Buses have to move slowly and stop constantly, and bus drivers work long hours, often taking the brunt of other drivers’ pent-up hostilities.

Most take this in stride, but every once in a while, you’ll feel the bus driving like it’s mad.

Surprisingly though, I’ve found bus drivers to be incredibly skilled, and even the occasional lapse rarely results in accidents or injuries.

Dedicated-Lane Buses

Some of the larger Mexican cities have set apart dedicated lanes for the most popular public bus routes. Dedicated-lane buses often have multiple cabins joined together like small trains.

These features allow them to run faster and carry more people than regular buses.

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Dedicated-lane buses usually have standardized stations with payment turnstiles like train stations. Some of these routes will run two kinds of buses, a slower line that stops at every station and an express line that only stops at major stations.

The slower line will usually be labeled “Parador,” which means “stopper” in English, and the express line is usually labeled Express.

Routes and stops for dedicated-lane buses don’t change often and will usually be clearly marked inside every bus station and bus.

You’ll see an “E” beside stations where the express lines stop. Some cities have designated spaces at the front of these buses for women and children only. Many also allow one free transfer per trip between dedicated-lane bus lines.

This free transfer will usually not apply to regular bus lines or light trains.

Private Buses

Although there seem to be fewer every year, you can still find private bus lines operating in some areas of some Mexican cities.

These usually run either in peripheral city areas that don’t have good public lines or in inner-city zones with narrow streets or complex traffic patterns that make larger buses impractical.

Private buses are often called “microbuses,” “peseros,” “colectivos,” or “combis.” They’re usually smaller than public buses, and some are just vans with added seats operated by a single highly skilled multitasker.

bus stop in Mexico
An example of a bus stop in Mexico.

Drivers will write their route information on large cards tucked behind their windshield and set up rope and pulley systems to open and close the doors.

They’ll announce stops, answer questions, receive fares, and juggle change while dodging motorcyclists and cars at high speed.

Since these buses aren’t subsidized by the government, drivers see it as fare game to pack as many passengers into their routes as possible.

They tend to drive faster and stop wherever they see a pedestrian signaling them. Some will wait at key stops for 15 minutes or longer, waiting for seats to fill up.

These slightly more chaotic private routes are still surprisingly safe with low accident and assault rates.

How Much Do City Buses in Mexico Cost

Mexico’s city bus networks have a lot of interwoven threads that can be a bit complicated to untangle.

In general, most city buses across the country still cost under ten pesos. Specialized bus lines, like the ones running on electricity or natural gas, may cost slightly less.

There are also usually discounts for special passengers like seniors, children, students, teachers, people with disabilities, etc.

Let’s look at what you can expect to pay for a city bus trip in different major Mexican cities. All prices are listed in Mexican pesos (MXN).

Mexico City

In 2024, here are the latest prices for different Mexico City public bus routes, according to Mexico City’s Public Transportation Network (Red de Transporte de Pasajeros, RTP):

  • Ordinary public bus routes: MEX$2
  • Express routes: MEX$4
  • Mexico City’s electric-cable bus, called the Trolebus: MEX$2-4
  • Mexico City’s natural-gas bus, called the Ecobus: MEX$5
  • Mexico City’s dedicated-lane bus, called the Metrobus: MEX$6
  • Mexico City’s nocturnal bus, called the Nochebus: MEX$7

Private bus lines in Mexico City charge rates depending on distance:

  • 5 kilometers or less: MEX$5
  • 5-12 kilometers: MEX$5.50
  • Over 12 kilometers: MEX$6.50

Monterrey

In 2024, Monterrey has a complicated public bus system, with fares depending on route length, bus type, payment method, and whether the bus has air conditioning or not.

Most people pay with transportation cards, and some fares rise every month by ridiculous amounts like MEX$0.05, so you’ll find interesting prices like MEX$9.67 or MEX$15.33.

Here, I’ll round fares out to the closest whole number:

  • Ordinary urban public bus routes paid in cash: MEX$12
  • Suburban public bus routes paid in cash: MEX$16

If you use a transportation card, you’ll get a few pesos off, depending on the above-mentioned factors.

Guadalajara

In Guadalajara, in 2024, all public city buses and trains cost MEX$9.50.

Other

Private bus lines in other cities also generally charge between MEX$5 and MEX$15.

How Do I Pay?

More and more cities are withdrawing cash payment methods for their public bus lines, covering and then removing the machines that used to accept coins. Be prepared to shell out for some kind of public transportation card.

bus station in Mexico
If you need to take a bus regularly, get a public transportation card. You can buy it from many metro, light rail, or dedicated-lane bus station.

Public buses that still accept cash usually involve machines that require exact change, so you may find yourself frantically asking jaded strangers to convert your larger bills.

For now, private bus lines still mostly accept cash, but many cities are trying to regularize them into the prepaid card system as well.

Public Transportation Card

Most of Mexico’s public transportation cards started as payment methods for metro systems and slowly spread to bus lines.

You can usually buy and refill a public transportation card at any metro, light rail, or dedicated-lane bus station.

You can also buy and refill these at convenience stores, like Oxxo and 7-11, and department stores, like Walmart and Soriana:

How Do I Find Bus Routes?

Mexico’s city bus systems are becoming more regularized and predictable every year, and the various apps and websites that track their routes are constantly getting better.

Most major Mexican cities have some kind of app or website that can give you a pretty accurate idea of the local bus numbers and routes.

Here are some of the best online city bus route trackers in Mexico:

  • Moovit can look for city bus routes in many Mexican cities using your current location, your designated starting point and destination, or an alphabetical list of local bus lines
  • Rutadirecta shows you a catalog of bus routes for around 20 Mexican cities
  • ElRutero also works for around 20 Mexican cities, showing you the closest bus routes to the origin and destination you pick
  • Google Maps lets you choose your destination and then look for directions using the nearest public transport options
  • Mexico City’s official RTP route site
  • Citymapper, available for Mexico City, uses live data from transit agencies alongside their own routing algorithm to find the quickest bus routes
  • RutasGDL helps you find city bus routes in Guadalajara

However, please note that bus numbers and letters marking routes and sub-routes often change without warning, and the exact streets each bus takes can shift due to construction projects, traffic congestion, or special events.

The best way to find out the exact specifications of nearby bus routes is to ask people waiting at bus stops as well as the bus drivers themselves.

Passengers and drivers usually know about the latest deviations and can tell you which bus will take you the quickest to where you’re going and where to catch it.

How Do I Calculate My Travel Times?

Many of the above websites show you the total travel times for each listed bus route. Some have separate time listings for peak and regular traffic.

You can use this to get a rough idea of your personal travel time, but you’ll have to take into account your exact origin, destination, and time of day.

I’ve found that Google Maps’ estimation of public transportation travel and wait times is often surprisingly accurate.

What Can I Expect When I’m Catching the Bus?

Start by dressing not too extravagantly. Bus crime is low, but don’t unnecessarily turn yourself into a target by dripping with bling.

how to signal a bus in Mexico
This is how Mexican signal a bus in Mexico.
  • Check bus stops: Some buses make unscheduled stops, but most only stop at official bus stops. Bus stops are usually clearly marked with a bus icon, but if you’re not sure, look for roadside loiterers and ask.
  • Signal with your hand: When you see your bus number approaching, signal with your hand. If the bus doesn’t stop, it’s probably too full, and you’ll have to wait for the next one.
  • Confirm your destination: You may want to confirm your destination with the bus driver or even ask them to let you know when you’ve arrived. You can say “Me dices cuando llegamos?
  • Pay your fare: For public buses, insert your exact change in the machine or scan your transportation card. For private buses during busy times, you can ask the nearest passenger to pass your fare up front, and eventually, your ticket will be passed back to you.
  • Choose your seat: If there are seats available on both sides of the bus, take into account your route and time of day to avoid the toothy sun. The front of many buses will have reserved seats that you can use if you’re mobility impaired.
  • Approach your destination: When you approach your destination, head to the exit at the back of the bus. Many buses have buttons you can press to ask the driver to stop. If you don’t see a button, you can shout “Baja.”
  • Watch your step!

When Do the Buses Operate?

City bus operating hours may vary slightly on different days or routes, but here are the general operating times in a few of the biggest Mexican cities.

  • Mexico City: 4:00 a.m. to 01:00 a.m.
  • Monterrey: 4:30 a.m. to 00:30 a.m.
  • Guadalajara: 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.

Do I Need to Speak Spanish?

The more Spanish you speak, the less lost you’ll get. If you don’t speak much Spanish, make sure to do your research before taking your trip.

Search online for pictures of what your destination looks like, and then follow your journey using a map app on your phone to see when you’re getting close.

Now, on to You

Like most of the country itself, Mexico’s urban bus systems are in the middle of an uncanny shift between wild west and black-and-white bureaucracy.

One city might have strict policies about where buses can stop but still have no passenger limits.

Another might have a manicured, organized bus fleet in upscale neighborhoods and a noisy free-for-all everywhere else.

You can watch other passengers to see what kinds of bus behaviors are appropriate in your area, including where to catch buses, how to signal them, how to get off, how to claim your spot during peak hours, etc.

In a complex system like this, many people are a little lost much of the time, and seasoned bus pros are generally more than happy to answer questions.

It’s better to look a little dumb for a minute than to end up the last person on the bus at the end of the line far from where you wanted to go.

Joseph Johnston
Joseph Johnston is a writer and amateur wizard with unruly, but not outrageous, eyebrows. His restless toes traipsed him through the bristling barrios of a couple dozen mystical kingdoms before settling on settling down in Mexico and the U.S., where he currently splits his time between the state of Jalisco and the state of Georgia. Thanks to infinite patience & a few magic spells, he's earned his Mexican citizenship, turned most of his Ns into Ñs, and replaced most of the cells in his body with Mexican food.

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