Coming from Seattle, I was used to having a choice of apps to track bus progress real-time, schedules that actually meant something, drivers that stopped at bus stops, and relative peace and quiet. None of these even vaguely resembles the Salvador bus system.
We now have an app with routes and schedules, but that’s about all the further things have progressed in the five years I’ve been here.
6 Tips for Bus Success
- Flag down the bus. Even if you are at a stop for your route, that does not mean the driver will stop. If you want the driver to stop, hold out your arm out and flag them down or they will go whizzing by.
- Download the app. CittaMobi (iOS, Android) is a city bus map app that maps out all of the stops and routes, lets you favorite stops, and shows you schedules. It is also seems to have real-time trackers on at least some of the busses. Google Maps also has the route information, but it is not real-time.
- Allow extra time for traveling. It is not uncommon to wait 40-45 minutes for a bus that has a scheduled frequency of every 15 minutes. I use the general rule of thumb to allow double the stated schedule frequency for my bus to arrive.
- Holidays and Sundays are reduced routes. This is not particular to Salvador, but remains important to remember. On Sundays, when the entire city descends on the beach, it’s particularly tough to get around via bus.
- Busses have change. You pay in cash, but unlike the bus systems I’m familiar with in the US, busses have change. Most of the busses have a “cobrador”, which is an extra bus employee that sits with the bus cash box. Their the sole job is ensuring the fare is paid and giving change. Per statute, you can pay with up to five times the fare and they will give you change. However, the bigger the bill the more likely you will wait until more passengers board so they have correct change.
- You need a CPF to get a bus card. Bus cards take care of the cash issue. But due to changes in 2018 likely related to card loss/theft, you now need a tax ID to get a card. Anyone can get a tax ID number, known as a CPF, all you need is your passport. But to get your CPF, you have to go to the Receita Federal during business hours. Something not worth your time if you are only here for a visit.
Class of Bus
There are two different classes of buses in Salvador with four different price points. 🙂
This is what you are going to see the most of. They are not air conditioned, they have one door for entry and a second for exit, and are the least expensive (R$4.00 as of April 2019).
To make things confusing, sometimes the entry door is at the front, and sometimes it is at the back. You have to figure it out on a bus-by-bus basis by seeing where the turnstile and cobrador (fare collector) are. If that isn’t confusing enough, seniors ride for free and enter at the non-fare door, as do many street vendors.
There are two different levels of executive bus — for reasons I can’t explain. Both are air conditioned with just one door at the front, but one charges just a few cents more than the common bus (R$4.20 as of April 2019), while the other is about 50% higher (R$5.90 as of April 2019). The executive bus tends to run on the routes tourists frequent, so I generally get one going from Barra to the Pelourinho.
Make your first destination the Pelourinho
The Pelourinho, the historic center of Salvador, is a true must-not-be-missed experience for every visitor to our magical city. It is the is the heartbeat of the city.
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Sunday is half fair day — for most busses. The way my husband has explained it to me is that the intra-city busses are half fare on Sunday. But if you pick up an inter-city bus, then they remain full fare on Sunday.
It doesn’t matter the distance you are traveling — only the type of bus that you are on — that determines full vs half fare.
Know the Fare
At this point you may be ready to give up on the Salvador bus system, but know that in spite of the complexity, it’s easy to know the fare. Busses always post the fare in the window right next to entrance as well as in the front window on the passenger side.