I suppose they call it that because you can carry your chickens on board — though this wouldn’t really distinguish these multi-colored Blue Bird school buses from any other buses that traverse Latin America. Instead, I think the way passengers are crammed onto the vehicle — sitting three to a seat and squeezing themselves into any available space left in the aisle — is more likely to have inspired the nickname. Riding a chicken bus must be what it feels like for laying hens in a factory hen house.
This will give you a sense.
After four months of traveling through south and central america I suppose it was naive of me to think there would be some sort of maximum capacity threshold on public transit. After we had filled three people to each seat, I thought the driver or pasaje man might say “no mas” and instead speed by hopeful individuals holding out for a ride. But this was not the case.
Three to a seat? No problema. Just stand in the aisle. Can’t push your way through? Try flinging open the emergency exit door in the back and hopping on. This move somewhat complicates the pasaje man’s job, but each new passenger means more money, so he makes sure to catch all the riders. At one point this meant having to walk over the tops of seats in order to get back to the front, as the aisles were too congested for him to pass.
On our ride from Guatemala City to San Lucas, Dave and I put the maximum capacity around 75 people. Next time I’m presented with the option, I think I’ll go free range.