Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Waiting for the Colectivo

Coming from the United States, where public transportation often keeps limited hours even where it's supposedly the best in the country, I've always appreciated that in Buenos Aires, I can walk out onto the street at 3 a.m. or later and, in no more than a few minutes, be riding back to Palermo on a reasonably comfortable colectivo (city bus). Despite late hours, through nearly 30 years I've never felt threatened or even uncomfortable aboard a colectivo (except when they've been so crowded it's almost impossible to move, but that rarely happens at non-peak hours).

These past several days, though, there's been no night bus service since the Thursday stabbing murder of a driver on the No. 96 bus in the provincial suburb of González Catán, a route that starts from the city neighborhood of Constitución. Demanding better security, drivers from the UTA transportation union have stopped service between 10 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., with no suggestion when they may lift the strike.

Bus routes in Buenos Aires, like that of the No. 15 bus pictured here, tend to be very long ones from the central city to the suburbs; in this case, it's a roughly 50-kilometer route that, in heavy city traffic, can take more than two hours in each direction. Unlike in much of North America, though, travel through the prosperous city tends to be safer than in the suburbs, which have many marginal shantytowns. This is what the UTA drivers see as risky, and they are appealing to provincial Governor Daniel Scioli for help.

For my part, I rarely take city buses to distant suburbs, and few other visitors should find it risky once nighttime service resumes. That doesn't mean the city is crime-free, but it won't deter me from taking the bus at any hour.

Meanwhile, as Argentines start their winter vacations, there's chaos at the city airport of Aeroparque and international airport at Ezeiza. According to the daily Clarín, more than 60 percent of flights from Aeroparque have departed late in the last 72 hours; several delays exceeded 12 hours. Most of the problems are with the recently nationalized Aerolíneas Argentinas and its close affiliate Austral, and whether they'll improve by the coming summer season is the looming question.

By then, though, you should at least be able to get a bus to the airport.


Mamacita Chilena said...

You're a man. Yeah...just reminding you. But I would like to suggest that's a huge factor in why nothing stops you from taking the bus at any hour.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

This is a reasonable comment on your part, and I respect it. I will add that, in Buenos Aires, there are many women taking the buses at comparable hours, and I think it has to do with the abundance of people on the street. My wife has no particular concern about taking night buses in the city, but she'd feel differently about some of the suburbs.

Mamacita Chilena said...

But are there many gringa woman? And what color does your wife have? I hate to go to looks but at least in Chile, being blond is a huge detractor if you want to go someplace at night, by yourself. Abundance of people on the street in Santiago is a non-factor for me. In fact, I was assaulted a mere 10 feet from a bus stop where at least 15 people where waiting and not one person helped as two thugs covered my mouth, picked me up and carried me to the side of the building where they then pinned me down on the ground.

That being said, in Buenos Aires I did feel a lot less conspicuous (and therefore a bit safer) than I do in Chile.

But, I just wanted to add my comments to this post for any gringo that may be reading and feel lulled into a false sense of security. It's true that Santiago at least, and maybe even Buenos Aires (don't know stats on that) are safer than oh say, N.Y.C. or Miami. But, on the other hand, just being a foreigner means your chances of getting robbed just increased by about a gazillion percent. Thieves can see/hear a gringo coming from blocks away.

Wayne Bernhardson said...

I appreciate the feedback on this, Mamacita. My wife, for what it's worth, is a light-skinned Italo-Argentine who, during her student days in BA, took buses everywhere at any time or day or night, and still does so when she is in the city. She has also lived in Chile, and when we stay in Santiago it's usually in Barrio Brasil. I don't want to understate the potential for petty crime, or worse, in either city but, as I once told an audience in Los Angeles in response to a question, there are no drive-by shootings in Buenos Aires. You do need to be aware of your surroundings at all times, of course, and avoid conspicuous displays of wealth, but my feeling is that tourist-targeted crime in relatively minor in both cities. We recently had two renters (a middle aged couple) in our Buenos Aires apartment from a small town in Washington state who had never been to a city of BA's size before, and they said they found it far less intimidating than they anticipated.

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