Compared to most North American cities, the Southern Cone capitals of Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile have superior public transportation, at moderate cost, but it’s a challenge for them to keep up with burgeoning populations in sprawling metropolitan areas. The fastest away to get around either city is by subway (underground), but the two systems are a study in contrasts.
Buenos Aires has the continent’s oldest subway, dating from 1913, but the Subte now lags behind the Metro de Santiago (pictured above, the impeccable Chilean system opened in 1975) and is trying to catch up. According to the Porteño daily Clarín, the private concessionaire Metrovías now operates a network of only 47 kilometers on six lines - less than half the 100 kilometers of track of the Chilean capital’s five lines. Despite its pioneering history, the Buenos Aires underground now ranks only fifth in the region, well behind Mexico City, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro in addition to Santiago.
In fairness, sprawling Gran Santiago (Greater Santiago) covers a substantially larger area (about 640 square kilometers or 248 square miles) than the federal district of Buenos Aires (192 square kilometers or 74 square miles, only a little bigger than San Francisco). The Santiago system serves twice as many people as the Subte, which does not venture beyond the city limits of Buenos Aires, which has only about three million residents (another ten million-plus live in the surrounding counties of Buenos Aires province, however).
Still, there is reason to be disappointed with the slow expansion of the Subte, despite gleaming new stations such as Estación Caseros (pictured above), on the crosstown Línea H (which is soon to open a new transfer station at Corrientes, connecting with Línea B’s Estación Pueyrredón). When the administration of current mayor Mauricio Macri took office in 2007, he promised the system would expand by ten kilometers per year - a figure since adjusted downward to two or three kilometers per annum. At the rate, it will take at least 18 years to catch up with the Chileans - presuming the Santiago system fails to expand any further.
Buenos Aires Taxis: on the Rise Again
Taxi fares are rising, once again, in Buenos Aires. According to Clarín, by next weekend rates will rise by 26 percent - the increased cost to bajar la bandera (drop the flag) on boarding will go from 4.60 pesos (about US$1.20) to 5.80 pesos (almost US$1.50), while the charge per 100 meters will climb from 46 centavos (12 US cents) to 58 centavos (15 US cents). Since 2003, when the cost of the ficha was 14 centavos, taxi fares in the city have risen by 314 percent. The city’s 30,000 or so cabs will benefit, even if costs locals and visitors more to get around.
Moon Argentina on the Road
Actually, on the avenue would be closer to the truth. Wednesday night at 7 p.m., I will deliver a digital slide presentation on Argentina at REI Berkeley, only a few miles from my home in Oakland. Admission is free of charge and walkups are welcome, but it’s best to reserve a seat via the REI website.