Part of: Toward Efficient Informal Urban Transit

Informal Transit in Latin America

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First half of 20th Century

Rio de Janeiro in 1892
Buenos Aires in 1896
San Jose and Kingston in 1899
Sao Paulo, Santiago and Mexico City in 1900
Havana in 1901
Valparaiso in 1904
Lima and  Montevideo in 1906
Caracas and Guadalajara in 1907
Veracruz in 1908
Guayaquil in 1910
Quito in 1914
  • Although initially praised as a marker of modernity by various governments, the transport system could not keep abreast with the growth of Latin American cities. Some common issues were overcrowding, lack of punctuality, lack of maintenance of tram cars, and high fare price.
  • As in the United States, in the late 1920s streetcars in Latin America began to face competition from public buses and private cars, which were more flexible and did not require rail tracks. 
  • In the mid-1930s, streetcars lost ridership to buses. The private companies started selling them to municipalities. 
A streetcar in Santiago, Chile, in 1915. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Second half of 20th Century

  • While streetcar companies needed considerable capital to maintain tracks and other infrastructure, a bus company could be started by any entrepreneurially minded person with a small investment. By the late 1940s/early 1950s, the responsibility for mass transit shifted to private mini-bus operators without stringent regulations.
  • These private operators self-organized themselves as companies or associations and competed for business.
Micro-bus in Mexico City, Mexico. Source: GIZ

Current conditions

  • In many Latin American cities, bus service is provided by private operators under contract to the city (often with vague service quality requirements) run in parallel with public transport. 
  • In Brazilian cities, the public transport system is more established and cities have stronger contractual relationships with operators.
Micro-bus in Lima, Peru. Source: GIZ