Colectivo is the name given in Argentina to public transportation vehicles, especially those of Argentina's capital city, Buenos Aires. They represent one of the best-known traditions of the city.

When they first appeared in the 1920s, colectivos were small buses built out of smaller vehicle chassis (cars, vans, etc.) and, later, out of truck chassis (1950–1990, by Mercedes-Benz Argentina). Colectivos used to be built on top of units not specifically designed for the transportation of people and were decorated with unique paintings (fileteado) that gave each unit a distinct flavor and added a colorful touch to Buenos Aires' streets.

Their evolution and size growth was steady and they kept their own picturesque style until 1990, when the urban fleet was modernized with real Bus-Bus units (with motors in the back of the unit) and much of the charm was lost.

Together with football, urban landmarks (like the Buenos Aires Obelisk) and tango, the colectivo was, until the 1990s, one of the big tourist draws of Buenos Aires. Because of its golden times the colectivo is loved by the citizens of Buenos Aires. A colectivo historian concluded after his extensive study:

The colectivo it is considered a source of pride for the national ego (identity), the same one that makes an Argentinian believe that his countrymen invented the birome (ballpoint pen) and dulce de leche, and that his city's avenues include the longest in the world (Rivadavia Avenue) as well as the widest (9 de Julio Avenue)." [1]

The term colectivo came to be used in some neighbouring countries including Paraguay.


1930–1950. Taxi-bus, car-bus, van-bus. Creation of the "líneas".

In the 1900s Argentina was the "Granary of the World", one of the largest world food producers and exporters, and a wealthy country. The streets of prosperous Buenos Aires (with 2 million inhabitants) soon filled with cars. Commercial relations with the United Kingdom (mainly trade in meat and grain), also brought a myriad of investors and enterprises in the early years of the century, including Latin America's first metro system, cars, trains, tramways, taxis and public buses.

But in 1929 the Great Depression hit, and the local cab owners attempted a radical change. They modified their taxi units, widening the back seats to allow more than one passenger per trip, and established pre-defined itineraries and stops, at a lower price per passenger. Every day, the drivers deliberately challenged the "real" public buses and electrical tramways, parking near them at the busiest stations and driving close to them during the day to pick up their passengers. Soon people started to prefer these colectivos and the original buses and tramways became part of history. Thus the original Argentine colectivo was born.

With time, these routes were formalized and owners of individual units grouped into líneas (lines) that operated a particular route. Since several lines often shared avenues and roads, companies began to adopt different colors to distinguish their units and not depend only on their assigned numbers (up to 3 digits) because they were often hard to see in the crowded streets. The Colectivo 60 was created in this era and, with it, a legend was born.

Popular demand in the 1930s propelled the size of the colectivo from five to up to a dozen seats but the picturesque external chassis designs remained in the original styles, which were kept until the 1970s and 1980s (by which time the units had twenty seats).

1950–1990 Mercedes-Benz truck and buses

After World War II and during the 1950s, Argentine industry started to develop again but the country's public transport system was inadequate for the new era: practically no modernization had taken place since the early years, and the train system was inadequate to meet the rising demands of the population.

Mercedes-Benz then took up this novel idea and ran with it, forever shaping the history of the colectivos. In 1951 Mercedes-Benz set up in Argentina its first factories outside Germany: one in the town of San Martín, near Buenos Aires, and another in González Catán. These began production of a large amount of trucks and cars, with their output soon rising to 600 units of trucks and also public transportation vehicles. In less than a decade the output was 6,500 units a year. Mercedes released updated local colectivo models (which were still just modified truck chassis), naming them Colectivo LO 3500, 0P 3500, L0 311, L0 312, etc. In 1963 Mercedes built the 10,000th colectivo (model LO 312), and continued with other models, such as L 1112 (120 HP), LA 1112 (traction in all wheels), L 1114, etc.

All the lines progressively adopted these units and, between 1950 and 1990, all the colectivos on the street eventually became Mercedez-Benz models.

1990 to the present. Bus-bus. Blurring of the tradition of the colectivo.

The last truck-Bus colectivo was the chassis LO-1114, from Mercedes-Benz.

In 1987 "El Detalle", one of the subsidiaries of Mercedes-Benz, started competing with its parent company, investing in low price and modern urban buses, with cheaper Deutz motors. That same year, it launched its model A-101. This model was back-motored and with pneumatic suspension, making for smoother rides and allowing for more inner space. Mercedes-Benz responded the following year with the OH-1314 but that was considered "the death of the colectivo" [2], certainly the end of an era.

In 1989 the last units on the classic chassis LO-1114 were mounted. Production had been discontinued the previous year. During the 1990s, some companies found it cheaper to switch to single colored units, and a flurry of mergers and foldings changed the way the colectivos look.

Nowadays, only the three-digit numbering survives from the traditional old "líneas", fileteado is rare and scarce, the filigranas were lost, and some of the classic big details, like the long mirrors close to the driver's head, simply disappeared.

After 1995 automatic ticket machines were added, they added safety to journeys since the drivers did not have to sell tickets and drive at the same time.

As of 2005, Mercedes-Benz units account only for about half of the buses in the city of Buenos Aires and its surroundings, with units built in Rosario (Eivar, Eiroa-Varela) and in Brazil (MarcoPolo and others). The other half are El Detalle units.

Most older units have been retired from service in Buenos Aires, as they are considered too dangerous and noisy for use in the fast-paced city. They were disposed of or sent to smaller cities all over the country. Colectivos are usually disposed of only when they are too damaged to be repaired.

Description of the Colectivo

The Mercedes units were more sophisticated than the original taxi-bus but the body kept its artistic touches, preserving the original style of the colectivo. This style was not influenced by the social class of the districts through which the colectivos journeyed. All the units of all the "líneas" shared these characteristics until the 1990s:

Multi-colored units

Decorators used many colorful combinations over the units' external body, helping identify each one of the líneas. These eventually evolved into "corporate colors", meaning that when on occasion two or more lines were bought by the same company, units of different lines were painted in the same colors. Until the 1990s, the fileteado was kept nonetheless in spirit with the uniqueness of each individual bus.


Fileteado was defined as: "art on wheels: full of colored ornaments and symmetries completed with poetic phrases, sayings and aphorisms, both humorous or roguish, emotional or philosophical" [3]. The colectivos were where this art found its best "canvas". Long, wide mirrors placed around the driver seat often had winding drawings and motifs that usually portrayed the driver's preferences in football, religion and tango. The outside of the units was also painted with fileteado details, flower motifs, national flags, and football team flags. It was also very common to see phrases written down in complex fonts, usually in the back. These phrases were often ingenious puns or rhymes and became part of Argentine folklore. A simple example of a very common phrase is: Lo mejor que hizo la vieja es el pibe que maneja ("The best thing my old woman did was the lad who's driving").


Most buses share a basic fare system which is cheap but tiring when making transfers which works similar to the Honour System of Fares. The "universal" fare (in pesos) is:

  • ARS 0.75 (Around USD 0.25) for less than 15 blocks
  • ARS 0.80 (Around USD 0.28) for the whole city of Buenos Aires.
  • ARS 1.25 (Around USD 0.42) for Buenos Aires Greater urban area or if travelling on an expressway.

These fares are on a per bus basis, and are not valid for stopovers.

Other details

The units with a larger budget had more details added around the driver's seat. These usually came in the form of lights of exotic colors or seat covers with wool and fringes or even leather. It was very common to see the gear-stick full of hanging knickknacks and the casing where the tickets and coins were stored covered with motifs.

Argentine culture

The cultural roots of "porteños" (inhabitants of the city Buenos Aires) placed the Colectivo for many years as one of their distinctive icons, together with the Obelisco in Buenos Aires and the fanaticism for football. For example, the makers of the 1979 motion picture La fiesta de todos [4], after Argentina's victory in the 1978 FIFA World Cup were forced by the military government to film one of its key stories inside a colectivo. One of Argentina's best-remembered soap operas was called Un mundo de 20 asientos ("A 20-seat world") and its main character was a colectivero (colectivo driver).

With the cultural explosion in Argentina from the 1980s, in films and intellectual endeavors, colectivos became one of the best-known examples of mass transport in the Western World, similar to London's double-decker buses or the New York City subway.

Usage in Buenos Aires

The frequency of the colectivos in the city of Buenos Aires makes them equal to the subway systems of other cities, but on wheels. However, buses cover a far wider area than the subway system, which is limited to a small (though the most active) part of the city.

With very economic ticket prices and extensive routes, the colectivo is by far the preferred mode of transportation around the city. "Porteños" have a love-hate relationship with the colectivo. On one side, they tend to be very crowded in rush hour and are a haven for pickpockets and petty thieves. Beggars and itinerant salesmen hawk on board. On the other hand, they are a loved necessity in the city and a convenient and cheap way to get around.


  • Domestically, the colectivo is also called bondi; the word comes from the name of Rio de Janeiro's tramways (bondes), in turn from English bonds, which is how the government paid for the Rio tramway system to the British company that built it.
  • Tickets are called boletos. Before 1995, they were sold by the colectivero himself, and consisted of multi-colored strips of paper, with a 5-digit numeration. Palindromic numbers (such as 10301, 29692, 12321) were called capicúas (from Catalan cap i cúa, "head and tail") and were traditionally conserved by the user as lucky charms.

See also

  • Transportation in Argentina
  • Colectivo 60
  • Mercedes-Benz
  • Jeepney - a similar type of vehicle made in the Philippines

External links