One of the most intriguing questions in the world of Lima’s combis is: who are those mysterious men that you can find at many crossroads that are shouting unintelligible code to the cobradores or the drivers (and seem to get paid for it even)?
These men (and women) are dateros (from the root “data”). They form a vital part of the combi infrastructure, because they allow the drivers to maintain the frequency (in theory at least, because it is not uncommon to see two or even three combis of the same line passing together). The other element of this system is the good, old time clock. This is a device where you insert a piece of paper and it stamps the time.
On many, if not most of the routes, the cobrador is required to stamp a time sheet at various points along the line. In this way, the management can check where they were at which time. This serves to guarantee that they are not taking a nice long break, while they are supposed to work. But taken together with the papers of all the other cobradores it also serves to analyze to what extent they have maintained the required frequency.
The management of these companies is clearly aware that it is the best if they maintain a fixed frequency. The drivers just want to drive as slow as they can (in order to pick up more passengers). So in order to find a balance the owners have invented the system of the time clocks (relojes). But these time clocks are only at certain points along the route. The drivers want more frequent feedback. And that is where the dateros come in.
The dateros are writing down the time of every passing combi of the routes they are covering. And whenever the next one comes along, they are shouting how many minutes ago the previous one passed and the one before that (and sometimes even the one before that as well). So you might hear them shout: “5, 7, 4”. Meaning the previous combi passed 5 minutes ago, the one before that 12 minutes ago (7 minutes before the one that passed 5 minutes ago) and the one before than 16 minutes ago.
If the stipulated frequency of this line is 7 minutes, the driver knows that he can go a bit slower than usual (which is good for him, because more chances to pick up passengers). On the other hand, it is possible that he will realize that he has to hurry up, because he is too far behind. Either way, this is useful information for the drivers, since usually some element of variable compensation depends on maintaining the frequency. That explains why they are willing to pay 20 centavos for this information.