The “sponja” (the foam) is the driver’s fare change system. It is used for quick change and separating coins. Photo Melissa Fernández/La Nacion

Taking a bus in Costa Rica, for some, can be a scary experience. Drivers making change or sorting an counting money while negotiating traffic. Some even believe they are behind the wheel of race and on the Indy track.But at night the situation changes, for the worse, as assailants make a grab for the day’s change, placing everyone at risk.

To be fair, there are also a lot of great drivers, courteous, making that extra effort to ensure passenger safety and comfort, some even making that not marked bus stop.

Most buses are equipped with security cameras with live feeds to a control center. Photo Melissa Fernández/La Nacion

But despite the type of driver, once the sun sets that risk factor when riding a bus increases, more on some routes than others. Night time is the perfect time for assaults on buses, on some routes the day’s take is still in the pockets of the drivers and tired and weary passengers have let down their guard.

Although assaults on buses can and do happen at any time, day or night, in the evening, for the most part, passengers are busy catching on the social networks, exchange messages on Whatapps, making or taking a call, watching a movie, listening to music, playing a game.

Autotransportes Desamparados control center, where staff monitor buses in real time. Foto Melissa Fernández Silva

However, engaging your smartphone on the bus is not entirely safe, especially at night. According to data by the Criminal Analysis unit at the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ).

According to data by the Criminal Analysis unit at the Organismo de Investigacion Judicial (OIJ) of the 168 reported assaults on buses that took place between January 10, 2015 and August 13, 2017,  77 % occurred between 6:00pm and midnight.

And what do the assailants look for? You guessed it, smartphones, tablets, money jewelry, any valuable stuff you have on you.

Smarphones are easy target for assailants.

For the most part, these are snatch and grab attacks, the assailant(s) already on the bus, grabbing whatever they can get from the unsuspecting as they make a run off the bus. Other assaults are more violent, the assailants using a firearm, blade (knife for example) or blunt object (a bat comes to mind). Authorities say that most assailants operate in pairs, intimidating their victims, both the driver and passengers

According to the OIJ, the preferred days for assaults are Saturdays, followed by Sundays Mondays. That is not to say they are are no assaults on the other days, just less.

Manuel Cartín, the instructor at Community and Commercial Security of the Directorate of Preventive Programs of the Fuerza Publica, said it is advisable to keep electronic devices in pockets or purposes, taken out only in an emergency.

“You have to understand that on public transport such as a bus, especially in the metropolitan area, you do not take out the cell phone or the tablet,” Cartin told La Nacion.

The official added that, in case of a robbery, best is to hand over the belongings, because the phone or table can be replaced, but life not.

San Jose is the province with the most reported incidents, followed by Heredia, Puntarenas and Limon. The provinces of Alajuela, Cartago and Guanacaste were the provinces with the least, the latter with only 2 of the 168 reported incidents in the time period.

How to ride the bus safer:

  • Don’t ride the bus lat at night if can avoid it. Better get in a cab or take an Uber.
  • Don’t carry large amounts of cash or valuables. Have a two pocket system, one with a fake wallet, ie with a little cash and expired credit/debit cards; the other with your cash and plastic well hidden
  • Avoid taking out your cell phone or carrying it in your hands
  • Be alert of your surroundings, both inside and outside the bus
  • At night don’t be waiting for or get off a bus in isolated or poorly lit areas
  • And always be friendly with the driver, he/she (there some women drivers now) may be the only friend you have on the bus in the event of an assault.

Please use the comment section below or post to our official Facebook page your experience and advice with riding a bus in Costa Rica.


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