Bus Travel, Part 1 


 Security must always come first. While we know that crime exists on highways in the United States and other “First World” countries, no specific information could be obtained to prepare this article that would be of assistance to our readers. My favorite source of information is the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In my opinion, the so-called “uniform crime reports link” did not reveal much. The FBI’s information center e-mail contact person referred me to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. This contact redirected me to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Still, no more specific details could be found. My browser did not produce much information about global highway crime statistics either.

My Own Experience

In conclusion, all I can share with my readers is my own personal experience: In September, 2004, I traveled in the U.S. by bus, departing from El Paso on a trip through Texas, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada. The situation I personally observed in downtown bus stations was not good. In major downtown areas such as El Paso, Albuquerque and Denver, gangs hang out at bus stations despite constant police vigilance. Drug pushers are easily found conducting business anytime in the neighborhood. My general sense of personal safety -especially at night- was not the best. On top of this, the buses I used, operated by the only two major lines that exist, were old and some needed maintenance. Drivers provided information about our itinerary that was not always accurate. This was especially confusing when Anglos trying to speak my language conveyed the message, although I appreciated the effort. My impression was that most people who utilize this kind of service do so because they can not afford any other means of transportation. They have no choice.

Cargo Theft's High Cost in the US

Cargo theft is estimated to cost the U. S. $15-30 billion a year. Thieves' methods vary, but the outcome is generally the same—a load of merchandise leaves Point-A and never arrives at Point-B. Cargo theft is the FBI’s number-one priority in Major Theft. More information in the Link. In Mexico we have CANACAR with valuable information about Federal Cargo Transportation. According to its Press Section in 2004 the Public Safety Secretariat (SSP) reported a total of 265 assaults to cargo units. A great number of these thefts turn up in merchandise found in tianguis and ambulatory vendors at a national level in Mexico.

Mexican Highways 

 Mexico is a huge country. According to our Communications Secretariat’s Website, Mexico’s highways cover roughly 356,119 kilometers. Approximately 2, 700 million people utilize these highways annually. Further, approximately 620 million tons of cargo is carried throughout the Mexican Republic. The national net of highways has multiplied 5 times during the period from 1960 to date, with a current growth rate of about 9%. While you will not be driving your bus, these are only a few things to consider by the person who will, starting by the fact he should not have the slightest sign of alcoholic breath or being tired, but quite alert:

“Always watch out for unlit cars, rocks, potholes, steep shoulders, deep gutters, and animals on the roads. You’ll sometimes encounter livestock and many dogs near urban areas when traveling along the highway (including many dogs that have been run over). You will also encounter speed bumps (topes) on the road and sometimes they are not visible, with either the paint having faded or the sign being absent. Expect possible drug and weapons searches on the part of police or soldiers, especially on roads near the U.S. border, along the Pacific Coast in Oaxaca, Guerrero, Jalisco and Sinaloa. Another hazard to beware of is the number of trucks on the road. They don’t always stick to the slow lane and one should always be careful when trying to overtake them, especially on single-lane roads. Mexico has an extensive network of toll roads (autopistas) and you should go along these roads when available. Excerpts taken from our Cars Section.”   

Mexican Bus System 

For your convenience, I have identified the bus services, and the Ticket Bus website, that covers the Mexican Republic.

· Ticketbus– Reserve your tickets from the comfort of your home, office. Get ready to buy your tickets, select your destination points from 4 different types of services offered. One website covers all bus lines. Some of the lines include the following.

· Estrella Blanca – Provides service in 27 Mexican States. Offers connections in the US a

· Estrella de Oro – This company covers tourist destinations such as Taxco, Acapulco, Ixtapa, Cuernavaca, etc.

· Greyhound de México – Offering US connections, departing from Mexico. The same, at all border cities arriving from the U. S.

· Omnibus Cristobal Colón – Covering most of the Mexican Southeast.

· Omnibus de México – Serving Northern and Central Mexico.

· Primera Plus – Covering all central states.

· UNO – Posh, comfortable service covering Mexico’s central and southern areas.  
 
Security Problems in Mexico 
 
Comparing what I personally observed during my trip to the States, traveling by bus in Mexico is highly enjoyable, economical and efficient. However, I must emphasize that you must always exercise your common sense, in the street, car, office and home. This is especially so when traveling by bus. It is important to put in practice every Crime Prevention tactic I’ve recommended in this column in the past. Yes, Mexico is not exempt from problems.  
 
After reading the contents of this article, you will feel reassured when boarding your bus. Ladies should exercise caution if traveling alone. Reduce your visibility with non provocative attire. Should –may the Lord forbid- be the victim of an assault, group rape is not unique to Mexico, it can happen anywhere, especially if the assailants are drugged and operate in an isolated area. While you may lose your cellular phone in case of a hold up, it is not a bad idea to have yours around (do not RISK your life attempting to do this) to call these numbers, in case of an emergency: 

Emergency Numbers (all tested & functioning as of April 22, 2008) to request help in case of car accidents in Mexican federal highways, report a crime, file a complaint against corrupt police officers (all services only in Spanish):

088  - From any landline 
 
TOLL FREE
 
01800-440-3690
01800-833-6262
Switchboard no. 5484-0490 (select service desired) 
Cell phone (Telcel customers only) Dial *112
 
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
Should anyone wish to present notarized documentary evidence involving a complaint, this must be sent or taken to, in Mexico City:
 
Centro Nacional de Atención Ciudadana
CENAC
Secretaría de Seguridad Pública Federal
América 300- 1er.Piso
Colonia Pueblo Los Reyes
Delegación Coyoacán 04330 
 
Official Website: www.ssp.gob.mx
 
If for some reason visitors, automobile drivers have received a ticket for violation to federal traffic regulations need information:
 
Try 5841-4300 Ext. 242, 282 and ask for Lic. Ana Lidia Reyes. Business hours only Monday to Friday  

Security Tips 

Please take note that most bus terminals are located in the cheapest areas of towns, although there are some exceptions. Most are surrounded by poor districts where crime exists. To reach the terminal, make sure you use a “safe” taxi, especially if in Mexico City. Your neighborhood “Sitio” taxi is the best choice or get a taxi by calling 5516-6020. Backpackers use the metro, which is also an option. If you do, I recommend you to check my two articles about the Metro in Mexico City: 
   
Metro Part I 
   
Metro Addendum 
 
Once you make it to the terminal, enter quickly. Inside the terminal you will find policemen and private security which make it relatively safe. Always have your luggage on sight. Avoid traveling at night, if possible. Get the best service (normally more expensive, but still reasonable in pesos) your bus line offers: you will be safer, enjoy a cup of coffee and watch a nice movie while your bus is moving. This is especially so, if your destination points include Acapulco, Ixtapa, the road that connects Oaxaca City and Huatulco, and between Huatulco and Acapulco. Because Sinaloa is a drug producing state, extra caution should be exercised. Now, take note of these recommendations:

- BEFORE you leave your home or hotel, pack your valuables, the larger amount of cash you carry on your trip, credit cards, etc. in the bag you intend to keep under the bus, in the locked compartment.

· When doing this, hide these items. Remember that should there be an inspection by soldiers or police, although done in your presence, you should eliminate any temptation.

· When you hand over your bag, make sure it stays on the bus until the compartment is closed.

· On your person and in the bag you intend to carry on board, along with your cell phone (if you have one), bring cash that will be divided in two parts. Most of this money will be in your bag and the rest, in your pocket. Most hold-ups take place rapidly, as time is a factor to the robbers. They want to act as fast as they can. What you have on you is what they will normally take. Should a robbery occur, you will be prepared to give them something, but not everything.

· Ill-trained security guards will hand-search you or utilize metal detectors that malfunction before you board. Foreigners are not allowed to possess or carry a firearm in Mexico. Do not take the risk of trying to carry one. Federal fines for this crime are stiff. It’s just not worth it.

· Not all stations have clean, attractive food service. I recommend you prepare a box lunch, drinks included. Have your meal when you please on board. Nowadays, beer or wine is not found in any terminal. Smoking is normally not permitted on board, though do not be surprised to find exceptions –even by your own driver. He may also play music to please himself rather than the passengers. Most buses currently have a built-in device in the engine that will not allow drivers to speed, for your safety and peace of mind.

· A nice, warm blanket and a pillow for long trips are nice. Remember that not all passengers are used to the same temperatures as you are, whether in air conditioned or heated spaces. Bring a walkman. It’s nice to hear what’s happening locally when your bus enters the next village or town, especially if you are able to find a news channel. A nice book, a copy of this article or your favorite magazine would be great if you enjoy reading. A mini flashlight is very useful. All these things are extremely useful in the event your bus breaks down on the road.

· By all means carry toilet paper with you. Do not learn the hard way. When traveling, always carry a mini bag with medicine: such as Lomotil, aspirin, Maalox pills for digestive disorders or Pepto Bismol, painkillers, bandages and also some bottled water. The idea is that you never use this mini first aid kit. 
 
In closing, be assured that Mexico is a great country to travel in by bus. I love it. Personally, have never had any problems worth commenting. Highway crime is rare, but it is best to be prepared. Should you ever be – the Lord forbid - in an unsafe situation, preventing losses will allow you to have a better attitude towards Public Safety, no matter in what area of the world you are traveling. I hope that all these recommendations do not stop you from using this great form of transportation. Instead, take note and enjoy your travel in a safer manner. Bon Voyage!

In closing, if the contents of this article were useful, please tell your friends about the Security Corner monthly help column, and help us make the world just a little safer for everyone.


 ABOUT Security Corner: Legal Notice is found in Featured Articles page. This monthly column is the result of intensive research by Mr. Mario González-Román to serve as support to the International Community. We do not pursue commercial or political interests. If a product or service is mentioned is because we believe it is in your own benefit. In some cases, per our request, official information was received from the Mexican Government. Contributions include those coming from non-profit private organizations and individuals volunteering to the usefulness of the objective of each article. In others, information was acquired by navigating in the Internet, by personal interviews or other channels. In each case, credit is given to information sources. While this information is for public use, it would be appreciated that when you reproduce or share its contents, that you include the name of its author and a link to Security Corner. All suggestions are welcome. If we made a mistake, we’ll be happy to correct it. English is not my native language. Readers have been extremely useful in the past: Welcome to edit articles. THIS IS TRULY A JOINT COLLABORATIVE EFFORT. Thanks to your input, messages we are be able to determine what topics interest our audience the most. Mr. González-Román is a retired FSN employee from the Embassy of the United States of America, where he worked per prior consent by Mexican Congress as evidenced in Federal Official Diary no. 16, dated September 23, 1981. Please become familiar with his Biography.

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