Student Blogs/Peter in Argentina

Hello again everyone!

I have always wanted to share some of my knowledge of the transportation system in Buenos Aires. The city itself is huge. Despite the fact that buildings here are literally glued one to another, the distances between the main sites of interest are vast. There are five main means of getting from point A to point B in the city. I have to admit that it was a wise decision on my behalf to choose my living accommodation within a short walk distance from the UCA’s campus. Being independent from the transit system takes the time pressure factor off the daily routine.

On the other hand, many of my fellow UCA students chose to live in the more upscale regions of the city such as Palermo (known for its vibrant night life), Recoleta (expensive, old style and more quiet than Palermo), and Tribunales (closer to the center and the main tourist attractions). All three are located far away from the UCA’s campus and thus, there is a need to either take a subte (subway system) or a bus. A good thing about this city is the transportation is virtually free compared to Canada. It is so cheap in comparison to Ottawa, almost shockingly at times! Telling my argentine friends that about $27 ARS equals approximately $3.55 CAD for a bus ride on OC Transpo makes them roll their eyes in disbelief!

Tarjeta SUBE: the “SUBE” card

Before I begin listing all the pros and cons of each method of transportation, there is a “must have” item for anyone living in Buenos Aires, which is a contactless pay card called “SUBE”.

A blue SUBE card

SUBE card

If you want to avoid the nightmare of buying your ride with coins that are hard to encounter, buy the “SUBE” card and scratch off one more item off the daily stress list. It was $25 ARS or approximately $3 CAD back in February, 2015. They seem to have raised the price due to inflation, but it is still quite cheap. Cards come with $0 credit initially and can be bought in many “kioskos” aka (first necessity items shop) that are located pretty much on every corner. I first thought that it is just like the “Presto” card, in terms of the registration, but it is much easier. No documents, nor any kind of online or in person registration is required. Simply buy it, load it with credit and you go! Taking in account that in this city every transaction requires cold hard cash, I never looked into loading up the card online via credit/debit card. It is just not worth the trouble when there are numerous places that can put credit on “SUBE” card. From “kiosko” to automated stands to railway/subte stations.

A SUBE card turnstile machine in the subway

Paying with SUBE in subte

One thing to mention is that one can go up to – $9.99ARS negative balance before card stops working until more credit is being put on it. To pay with the card, just press it against the reading plate to enter the Súbte platform. Lastly, to check the current balance on your card, there are many electronic stands that look like this.

Súbte (the underground subway system)

The inside of the back of subway car with green seats

New Air Conditioned Subte Train

Pros: Simplicity. The system map is easy to remember, no red light stops, more predictable. Cost is $4.5ARS or $0.40CAD. More than 20 trips per month costs even less per ride!

Cons: Comfort. It can get really crowded during the rush hour, which also happens to be during the morning lecture time. Also, some lines have noisy trains without air conditioning. Underdevelopment is an issue; some regions of the city are still excluded from Subte coverage. You are out of luck to ride it after 10:30 p.m. on weekdays and Saturday; on Sunday, it closes even earlier.

Colectivo (bus)

a bus on the street

<strong>A bus on the street</strong>

Pros: Anywhere from everywhere! Numerous routes will take you anywhere you want no matter what is your current location. It’s cheap, depending on the distance fare ranges from $3.00 to $4.70.

Cons: Welcome to the chaos my friends! There are many versions of the same route each having its unique departure and destination point. If there is a demonstration a bus might take a different street; you have to know your destination because the fare depends on the distance. It’s crowded during peak hours and subject to traffic jams. The driving style of the Buenos Aires bus drivers also depends more on the circumstances of the trip than traffic rules.

I think that using bus is just the matter of experience. For locals riding buses is something that is done subconsciously, while for a foreigner the whole process might seem like a definition of a nightmare. Also the bus only stops to pick you up if you wave down the driver, just like one would waive for a taxi.

The best way to ride a bus is to take a test trip on a free day just for the sake of knowing the route next time. Also, it is sometimes best to tell the driver the amount of the fare instead of destination. I haven’t seen any enforcement if you pay less than you should. In the end, an extra 10 Canadian cents isn’t worth the risk.

As a side note, bus route #152 is the best in terms of getting to UCA from the North East region of the city. It serves neighbourhoods of: Nuñez, Belgrano, Palermo, Recoleta, Tribunales, Retiro, Centro.

Train

2 blue train cars on tracks at the station

<strong>The train</strong>

Pros: A good way to get outside of the city’s boundaries to the destinations in the province of Buenos Aires and it’s cheap.

Cons: It’s slow! So far I haven’t seen a single train’s average speed to go beyond the 50km/h mark, not even outside of the city boundaries. There are some nice new trains which are comfy, but also a lot of very old trains where one can observe the “triumphs” of the vandals.

There are three main train stations: Retiro (serving north and northeast of the province), Once (serving destinations to the east) and Constitución (serving destinations to the south and southwest of the city). Also there are three premetro lines (Linea General Urquiza, two lines of the premetro of Linea E), but it is quite unlikely that students going to UCA will be living in those remote regions of the city/ province.

Bike (called “Eco Bici”)

I’ve never tried this option but looking at the total absence of bike lanes in some parts of city and the crazy driving behaviours of the cyclists that cross on the red light makes the thought of using a free/own bike plain scary!

Walking – my favourite so far!

Pros: Free! It’s a good way to get to know the city and interesting locations. You can’t argue the flexibility or independence either.

Cons: One can’t walk forever. It’s slow and not recommended during nighttime, especially in the narrow dark “calles” aka streets.

Navigation tools

Besides google maps, http://www.omnilineas.com.ar/ is a good site to search for the bus routes.  To find a subte system map, city map, bus destinations, one can buy a “GuiaT” or the tourist city guide pocket size edition in any newsstand on the street.

Paying with coins

Forget about it! Coins are harder to encounter than $100ARS bills in the first place! Paying with SUBE is also cheaper with bills than coins. They are also heavy to carry many of them. Also some of the coin machines in the buses won’t work (old and not maintained, since almost no one uses coins now). There is also a rumour that the $2ARS coins are not accepted by the bus coin machines.

Getting to the city from the airport: Taxi

Best way is to book online in advance on this website: http://www.taxiezeiza.com.ar/. It is not recommended to take taxi for other occasions in the city unless you are riding with someone local that knows how to keep taxi drivers within their reasonable fares. Overcharging anyone that doesn’t know the city well or looks like a tourist is quite common.

I hope I have covered every important aspect of the transportation in the city of Buenos Aires, enjoy the pictures, post comments and suggestions. Thank you for your time!

Abbreviations:

  • ARS: Argentine Peso
  • CAD: Canadian Dollar
  • “SUBE”: Sistema Único Boleto Electrónico

Tuesday, July 21, 2015 in , ,
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