Aboard, abroad, and bored

Using public transport to get around Buenos Aires

On my first full night here, back in November, I remember being drawn towards a cacophony of blaring horns not far from Avenida de Mayo. Curious, I followed the noise and turned a corner to see the ceremonious unveiling of a new fleet of buses, or collectivos. The horns continued well into the night, as people queued to take selfies with these everyday vehicles and their uniformed drivers as if they were a celebrity couple. It was all very surreal. One month later of daily journeys on the 118 however, and I now see what all the fuss is about.

When I first moved to Recoleta, each morning entailed a 50-minute subway commute which included 15 minutes’ walk at each end and a stuffy carriage in-between. After that first week, a girl in my team at work recommended I try the 118 collectivo as it might be a slightly better commute. Well done her and, consequently, well done me.

Collecting me just a trot away from my doorstep, the 118 whizzes the scenic route through Plaza Italia and Palermo before terminating at Barrancas de Belgrano 20 minutes later. Even after I’ve navigated my way from the cobbled streets of Barrancas to the office via charming Chinatown, that’s easily a quarter of an hour sliced off my original commute on the D line.

The transport in Buenos Aires is heavily subsidised, and there is a sense of entitlement here to good service at very low prices because that has always been the way. Even cheaper than the subway, the 118 is no exception to this rule. Coming to a paltry ARS 6.25 each way, at the current exchange rate this comes to a total of 50p per day. As a point of reference, this is less than a tenth of what I was paying in London, and that’s without the guaranteed seat and daylight each day.

Although it might appear that I’m getting a bit carried away with essentially a daily run into work, there is another crucial benefit offered by the dependable 118.

Slightly put off by my original subway commute, I had conceded that I would probably move to Belgrano next, so I could walk to work in Núñez and then I would have my life all within about one square mile. This felt like a missed opportunity though, plus I love Recoleta and want to stay here when my housesitting stint ends in March. Given its directness, happily the 118 makes it easy for me to keep business and pleasure separate across this wonderful city, with the negligible cost of the commute not even a consideration. Day in, day out, the commute must begin and end in Recoleta.

Fittingly, it is a noticeable characteristic of the Argentinian national identity that its people have an unusual tolerance, almost preference for repetition. Tonight, like most other nights, one of the TV channels was playing a showreel of Lionel Messi’s goals. This time the main theme was his opening Barcelona goal in league and cup of every calendar year since 2006 from, frankly, far too many reverse angles to sustain my interest. The point however is that there is something comforting for Argentines about this predictability.

With the country’s recent enough turbulent economic and political backdrop, including violent protests over pension reforms outside congress in December, it is no surprise that so-called boring almost always trumps exciting. Unlike the erratic nature of ‘exciting’ that threatens to upset an otherwise easy way of life, the Argentines at least know what they’re getting with ‘boring’ and they are drawn to it because it works for them. Boring is tried and tested. Boring is reliable. Boring is the 118.

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