The 0-317 Mercedes Benz “recogelocos” are reluctant to leave the streets of Caracas

Leo Luis and José Gómez with the Benz 0-317

Without doubting that they would make the best investment, Leo Luis Torres and his wife Carmela Rotondo bought three Mercedes Benz 0-317 buses from the son of the late owner of Colectivos del Norte CA, from 1976, to start a new transportation company in Caracas. These units, which covered the routes San José, Hospital Vargas, Avenida Baralt, Quinta Crespo, La Planta and El Valle; and San José, Hospital Vargas, The Armed Forces, La Hoyada and El Cementerio; they began to go out of circulation one by one due to different mechanical problems that were not taken care of by the heir to this city transport line.

“Until 8 years ago I worked for the transport company Colectivos del Norte. When the majority owner, Mr. Pestana, died, the buses were left to one of his children, but he did not do the maintenance they required. They were stopping even for a bottle of oil! In view of the fact that the units were declining, they began to sell them, and my wife and I had the initiative to buy some to take advantage of it, because they looked good units, and here we are, ”says Leo behind the wheel, accompanied by his partner and wife Carmela, while they wait to refuel two of their three Mercedes Benz 0-317 buses at the La Bandera gas station.

The legendary Benz 0-317 / Photos by Jacobo Méndez
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Leo Luis and Carmela rescued three units that were in a state of abandonment in San José, where the Colectivos del Norte, CA line was located, and reactivated them to provide service on the El Silencio - El Valle - Coche route.

The eternal Mercedes Benz 0-317

The 0-317 is a city and interurban bus model that the Mercedes Benz brand produced between 1957 and 1972, but which was assembled outside of Germany until 1976, according to the portal. Wikipedia .

"Between 1965 and 1966 the Mercedes Benz company authorized Sotelo & Ariño to assemble the extra-urban 0-302, and the 0-317 from 1968 to 1972, when it began operations in Anzoátegui", refers a thread on the Mercedes Benz 0-317 Posted by Twitter account @GfdeVenezuela. “The previous 0-317 models were one meter shorter in length despite being the same chassis. Even the Mercedes Benz 0-317 with a central door, such as those of Expresos Catia La Mar, were a bit longer, which later went on to other routes such as Magallanes-Chacaíto. In general, almost all pre-1972 models were homologated to the local Mercedes Benz standard, "says the publication on the social network.

Mercedes Benz 0-317 bus that belonged to the Expresos Catia La Mar company. Photo Ricardo Dos Santos

Autobuses Aliados Caracas, CA, registered on October 17, 1964 and integrated in Colectivos Solven, was the first private company that used Mercedes Benz 0-302 and 0-317 on the Gramoven - Plaza Morelos - Chacaíto route. His 0-317 were assembled by Sotelo & Ariño, review @GfdeVenezuela. Likewise, this Twitter account adds that the Expresos Catia La Mar company maintained several 0-317 central door manufactured by Mercedes Benz in Anzoátegui, in addition to rear door models assembled by Sotelo & Ariño.

These buses, which we still see rolling down some avenues of the city, and which are popularly known as "recogelocos", because the drivers agreed to give the queue to homeless and penniless drunkards on the condition that they jump over the rear turnstile, according to him thread on the Mercedes Benz 0-317They have been one of the most durable collective transports in Caracas in recent times. They have been walking our streets for more than forty years, loading and unloading passengers, helping them get to their jobs and homes.

And it is that the transport lines of the city became experts in making modifications to the Mercedes Benz 0-317, managing to extend their operational lives despite their age and the lack of spare parts, mainly motivated by the financial impossibility of incorporating new units to the service.

The “recogelocos” of the El Silencio - Valle - Coche route

From 6:00 am Leo Luis Torres, his wife Carmela Rotondo, and two of the drivers were standing in line to supply diesel to two of their vehicles. It was already 1:00 pm and they seemed to have at least a couple more hours to go before they could get to the La Bandera gas station.

—How has the diesel situation affected you on a day-to-day basis?

—Leo Louis: It's pretty cumbersome right now. Previously, when I worked for the Colectivos del Norte company, every time the diesel fuel dropped we would put ourselves in the pump at once to always keep the tank full. Right now we add diesel today, in a few hours, in a queue that starts at 6:00 am, lasts a day and a half or two, and we have to re-equip. We took a long time on this.

"Miss a day of work?"

Leo Louis: At least today. Today Monday we lost the day.

How often do you have to fill diesel vehicles?

—Leo Louis: Every two days.

"And are they allowed to fill every other day?"

—Leo Louis: Yes we are allowed, but sometimes they kick out and sometimes they don't.

"Are you and your wife together all day?"

Leo Louis: Yes, we are partners. She and I are keeping an eye on the units.

Carmela: I help collect and pay collectors.

"Have there been problems getting paid due to lack of cash?"

Leo Louis: There has been no problem. When the bills are devalued, like now those of 200.000 and 50.000, which many businesses no longer want, we stop that bill a little.

—And the lack of cash has affected the number of users?

—Leo Louis: There are people who ask for queues because the salary is not enough for them. Daily we give about thirty queues. As for the old people, they don't pay here. That yes we have my lady and I. We support the elderly in that.

- Is the current charge for the passage to maintain the units and live?

Carmela: We charge between 700.000 to a million bolivars per ticket. Right now we feel a little more comfortable to be able to buy the oils, or the spare parts necessary to maintain the units, although we sometimes feel fair, because they are expensive, everything is in dollars. Obviously inflation kills you the increase they can give you.

Apart from that is the pandemic situation. In the radical weeks, few people use transport and the guard is not covered.

By what percentage is the number of users reduced in radical weeks compared to flexible weeks?

Carmela: In the mornings it moves a little, but already in the afternoons it decays. In the flexible ones, you work both shifts and earn income.

"Can you get spare parts for these vehicles?"

—Carmel: Here in Caracas there are no longer any spare parts for these vehicles. We should look in San Cristóbal or Colombia. Here there is not, unless someone has this type of vehicle stopped to sell it for parts, or pieces.

- Has the pandemic affected you in your day to day?

—Leo Louis: When it is a radical week, the full watch is not done.

—How do you protect yourself to avoid getting Covid-19?

Leo Louis: We maintain the protocols. The collectors have alcohol, we wear face masks, and when we get to each terminal we ask the collectors to disinfect the units with chlorine.

Carmela: We do not let the user enter without the mask.

"Do the passengers respect the use of the mask?"

—Leo Louis: We must maintain that protocol, everyone must come up with masks.

"Is the El Silencio - El Valle - Coche route dangerous?"

—Carmel: Yes it is dangerous, but since this is a large unit, I think they do not dare to meddle much. The encavas have more security problems.

"Have they ever been injured?"

—Carmel: As we are on top of the vehicles, very little has happened to us. Before something bigger happens, we take care of it.

Mercedes Benz Drivers Family 0-317

At 48 years of age, Leo Luis Torres has spent most of his life driving passenger buses. He started at the age of 18 and his father, also a driver of this type of vehicle, taught him to drive the long Mercedes Benz 0-317. “I have been working behind the wheel for 35 years. I started with gasoline trucks, and then I went to diesel cars, "he says.

Mercedes Benz 0-317 bus that belonged to Colectivos del Norte CA Photo J. Carlos Gámez

"Is it difficult to drive this type of vehicle?"

—Leo Louis: When one has experience one sees it easy. Years ago, my father drove these same cars on the San José-Hospital Vargas line.

"Did your dad teach you to handle them?"

—Leo Louis: Yes, although I already knew the car. I knew how I had to open up to cross, how not to ride the brunette, and how to be aware of the mirrors.

"Is it difficult to drive a bus these days?"

—Leo Louis: In these times it is a bit difficult because there are many motorized vehicles, people who do not comply with traffic regulations, they eat the light of the traffic lights. We must be aware that someone does not eat the light and go to get against the bus. It's a problem. And now the problem of diesel. Of the rest, we try to follow, these cars are a heritage.



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