Mérida’s growth spurt over the past couple of decades has had its ups and downs, but fortunately, its public transit system is finally starting to catch up.
As a kid growing up in Mérida, I always figured the city’s public transit was, if not great, at least decent.
It was safe and easy enough to navigate so that a 10-year-old me could don his Karate Gi and take the bus from García Ginerés to his dojo downtown.
Sure, there was no real schedule, and the bus driver on the route often seemed far too engrossed in the Archie comic books he was reading while simultaneously driving the bus, but oh well, I figured, that’s just the way it is.
Then again, some of the buses were so old that on one occasion, on my way home, my foot went right through the insanely rusted floor, cutting my foot and losing my sandal for good. That was not a good day.
Years later, I began to depend on the bus to get to and from work downtown, and since I was living out in Las Américas by then, this journey was a lot longer and more stressful. Sometimes, it took up to an hour and a half each way.
Thankfully, since then, connectivity to and from my fraccionamiento has improved, but until recently, taking the bus anywhere was a pain.
But things began to improve this year with the arrival of Mérida’s Va y Ven (or Come and Go) transit system, which offers air-conditioned buses and a swath of new convenient routes. All of a sudden, taking the bus was doable again.
Payments on the Va y Ven transit system work through a wallet-sized plastic card, which can be purchased and recharged at special kiosks around the city and just about any convenience store, including OXXO.
This new citywide transit system has been a game changer by expanding the radius for employment opportunities.
Crucially, the Va y Ven also allows for transfers, previously not a common practice in Mérida.
Another important aspect of the new bus network is the implementation of nighttime routes, which serve thousands of people every day working mainly in the service industry.
The Va y Ven also has a dedicated smartphone app to help find nearby stops, plan trips, and identify routes. The app also has a real-time bus tracking functionality to make it easier to catch the bus without having to simply wait for it out in the sun or under an awning.
The Va y Ven app is free but only available in Spanish, which is not a big deal for English speakers, as it is designed to be intuitive.
Getting to and from work aside means that it’s now easy to get around town and not worry about having a couple of drinks and having to pay for what seems to be an ever-worsening and more expensive taxi or ride-sharing service.
The one major issue with the Va y Ven system is that there are insufficient buses to handle the demand, especially during rush hour. This means thousands are forced to stand every day through their commute.
Plans have also been announced for new routes to even more of Mérida’s comisarías, suburbs, and nearby towns, making it easier for those living as far away as Umán to access the network.
In the next few weeks, the Va y Ven system will incorporate the first route of the Ie-Tram, a new electric tram-like bus service running on dedicated roads to zip through town at a greater speed.
We can’t say how well this new program will fare longterm, but one thing is certain: it is a big improvement over what came before. It sure has been a long time coming.