Buenos Aires has its shortcomings, but one thing I’ve always appreciated is the ready availability of public transportation. It’s still a pleasant surprise to step onto a downtown street at 3 a.m. and wait just a few minutes for a city bus that will take me back to my Palermo apartment. The fare is negligible, and the buses run all night (though with lesser frequency than they do in the daytime).
There is one exception to the rule, though, and that’s the fact that the underground Subte (pictured above and below) shuts down so early. In a 24-hour town – I once hyperbolized that, by contrast, “New York is the city that takes a nap” – the quickest and most efficient means of getting across town shuts down at 11 p.m. nightly and at 10 p.m. on Sundays and holidays. It’s almost always my first choice for getting around town (though my Argentine wife finds underground travel disorienting and prefers surface streets).
Those limited hours may soon change, though. Earlier this week, city ombudsman Alejandro Amor introduced legislation to extend the Subte’s hours: should it take effect, the system would operate from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Monday through Thursday; Fridays, Saturdays and holidays to 3 a.m., and Sundays from 7 a.m. to midnight. An accompanying press release stated that its operating hours were among the shortest of any major city in the world – New York, by contrast, has 24-hour service. In neighboring Chile, the Metro de Santiago keeps somewhat longer hours than the Subte on a more extensive system.
One objection, raised by the private contractor Metrovías and city mayor Mauricio Macri, is that fares would have to rise to meet additional operating expenses. The measure disputes that contention but, in any event, the Subte’s fares are among the world’s lowest for a system of its kind. Macri, a fiscal conservative who will be a candidate for the Argentine presidency this coming October, may prefer not to raise fares, but it’s hard to imagine that it would cost him many votes – city voters dislike the ruling Peronist party faction and many would like to see longer Subte hours.
If higher fares could help pay for expanding the system, though, that would be worth it. Many parts of the city remain underserved, and there no are connections whatsoever to suburbs beyond the Argentine capital’s boundaries. This would be roughly comparable to limiting the Washington Metro to the District of Columbia, ignoring the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. There is commuter train (pictured above) service from adjacent parts of Buenos Aires province to downtown BA, but it’s slower, less reliable, and in some cases downright dangerous.