Saturday, February 11, 2012

Behind the Buenos Aires Transport Reform (Redux)

As yesterday’s deadline for obtaining or applying for Buenos Aires’s new SUBE integrated fare card approached, Argentine transport secretary Juan Pablo Schiavi acknowledged the attendant chaos by extending the deadline to Friday, March 2. Presumably, that will reduce the pressure and length of lines to obtain the card, but many details remain unclear – not least, what new fare structure will be after that date. Speculation ranges up to 10 pesos (about US$2.50), nearly a tenfold increase over current fares, but that seems improbable to me.
As I wrote on Wednesday, I’ll be back in town next weekend to test things myself. In the meantime, I received a series of emails from Dan Perlman of Casa Saltshaker as to his experience, beginning with his observation that “This is just so f'ing Argentine...” for its apparent disorderliness. I have edited his following comments slightly, primarily for punctuation.
According to Dan, “I tweeted your post about the SUBE cards and got hit back with multiple Argentines who follow me with ‘no, no, foreigners can get them, just go to the website and find the place nearest to you or go to any Correo Argentino [Post Office] to get one with your passport.’"

“Fine, went to the [SUBE] site and it gives no information whatsoever about who can apply or what you need to apply, but it does say, ‘go fill out the form at any Centro de Atencion’ and it gives a list of about a dozen in every neighborhood. I go to the one a few blocks from me and they've got signs plastered all over saying ‘we don't have SUBE cards here.’ So I go in and ask about it woman says, ‘the government never distributed the cards or the forms to any of the Centros de Atencion, so none of us have them. You have to go to any Correo Argentino.’"

“I go to the one closest to my house. I ask. ‘Nope, we don't have them, only the big zone branches have them.’ I go to the closest one to my house. Signs all over, ‘we have no system to process SUBE card requests for the moment.’ I ask. "Oh, the processing system has been down for days, it might be back up next week some time.’"

“Meanwhile, the government's been blogging and announcing about how they're so overwhelmed with the quantity of processing requests that they've extended the deadline for obtaining the cards.’"

“Yeah. This is working.”

Another interesting point that Dan brings up is the fact that authorities may be able to track cardholders’ usage even though, as I mentioned in Tuesday’s post, it is customary for multiple riders to use the same ticket on the Subte in particular, since no ticket is required to exit the system. The card, he says, “while tied to your name, probably doesn't show your name on the sensors - they don't have a screen that could do that, just a light to indicate it was processed and a small number readout of the balance. They'd have to replace every sensor in every bus, subway and train in order to have the ID thing make sense.”

“There is, however, an interesting Big Brother component to it all - if you go to the SUBE site, you can click on the link ‘Mis Viajes’ [My Trips], enter your card number and it will show your entire history (no idea back how far) of travels, time-stamped. I imagine the government has full access to that which would be something they could use to track someone down potentially.”

I’m not quite so convinced of that as, even if the card shows where you boarded a train or bus, it can’t show in which direction you were headed or where you got off. To repeat, there is no ticket necessary to exit any Subte train or city bus, and I can’t imagine any practical way to set one up – especially given how inept the system’s implementation has been so far.

In a follow-up message, Dan elaborates that “I'm going to go back on Monday or Tuesday to see if ‘the system’ is back up, so perhaps wait and see with that. Also, one person told me that starting sometime next week there are going to be street processing kiosks setup around the city - presumably, since they need a "system", either the intent is a wi-fi/cell connection to [the] process, or maybe it's just to fill out the paperwork and then wait for the card to arrive in the mail. I did, BTW, try filling out the form online and have heard nothing back, so who knows?”

Late Update
My wife, who's an Argentine citizen, has had better luck with her SUBE application. According to an email she just received, "We wish to notfiy you that your request has arrived at a final stage of validation and is presently being processed by Correo Argentino. We will inform you by another email on the progress of your package. Remember that the proceeding remains active and until its completion, it is not permitted to make another request either by Internet or at any other service point."

We Have a Winner! And, Perhaps, Another
Laurene Dong of Kitchener, Ontario, correctly identified Canada’s Barrick Gold as the company that proposed moving glaciers along the Argentine border in the so-called Pascua Lama project. She adds that “I'm disappointed to learn that the company that tried to remove the glaciers in northern Chile is Barrick Gold, which is Canadian, as am I.” She will be receiving a free copy of Moon Handbooks Patagonia in the mail, and is planning to visit early next year.

Meanwhile, I received another correct answer from a reader named “Randy,” who did not otherwise identify himself, in the comments section of the entry. Randy, if you don’t answer me by Monday with an address to which I can mail the book, I will have to withdraw the prize and hold it for a future contest.

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