Wednesday, February 22, 2012

El Subte

Present map of the Subte, the underground of Buenos Aires
So it’s been over a month since control of the city’s underground rail system, known as El Subte, was transferred from the Federal Government to Mauricio Macri’s Buenos Aires City Government, and although full control isn’t expected to be handed over for at least a further couple of weeks, the effects of the change are already being felt.

On January 6, fares were dramatically raised from $1.10 per journey to $2.50, a hike of 127%. This gave rise of course to protests and pandemonium which saw Metrovias open up turnstiles on day one of the new price to let everyone travel for free. While during the weeks leading up to the fare increase, lengthy queues built up at stations throughout the city as users stocked up on as many $1.10 tickets as they could cram into their pockets. Many even turned the exercise into a business opportunity selling ten journey tickets online for $20, undercutting the new $25 price and making a cheeky $9 profit in the process.

Naturally the increase has not gone down well with most consumers, already suffering from the high levels of inflation in Argentina, but it is clear that the heavily subsidised underground system in Buenos Aires has long been due a substantial rise in fares.

The previous price of $1.10 (approximately 25 US cents) made the Subte one of the cheapest underground network systems in the world, and even the new price of $2.50 (aprox 60 US cents) is still somewhat cheaper than other networks in South America. In Santiago de Chile for example the price of a journey ranges from US$1.05 to US$1.30.

And although peso prices have increased by 57% since 1994 when the private company Metrovias took over operations, in dollar terms the price has actually decreased by 63% and the recent hike will mean that the new price in dollars of 60 cents is less than it was in 2000.

However, if the subsidies, which have seen the Federal Government paying Metrovias hundreds of millions of pesos per year, completely disappear, then it is expected that the cost of a journey will rise to around $3.30.

The Buenos Aires Subte, which is short for Subterráneo (underground) has a long history.

Building Linea A below Avenida de Mayo
Inaugurated in 1913, it is South America’s oldest underground rail system. The first Line, Linea A, which runs below Avenida de Mayo, was built by the Anglo-Argentine Tramways Company and connected Plaza de Mayo with Plaza Miserere. The line is not that deep and was constructed in daylight. When opened to the public in December of 1913, Linea A made Buenos Aires the thirteenth city in the world to have an underground service.  

The Line, which now runs all the way out through the west of the city to the station of Carabobo, still uses the original rolling stock from its inauguration.

The wooden interior carriages were made by the Belgian company La Brugeoise et Nivelles SA, and although the carriage doors now close automatically, to get on and off they still need to be manually slid open by the passenger. The driver also only occupies a small cubicle in the corner of the front carraige so passengers can sit to its side and look down the tunnel.      

Wooden interiors of Linea A trains
The current Subte system has five other operational lines. Linea B was built in 1930 and runs from Leandro N. Alem station to Los Incas. Linea C in 1934 from two of the city’s principal railway stations Retiro and Constitución. Linea D, now the system’s busiest line transporting close to 500,000 passengers per day, was opened in 1937 and runs from Catedral to Congreso de Tucuman in Belgrano. In 1944 Linea E started operating and now runs from Bolivar to Plaza de los Virreyes. And in 2007 Linea H was built from Corrientes station to Parque Patricios.

Perhaps one of the downsides of the Subte has been that, besides for Linea C and now Linea H, the other lines all run from the Microcentro (downtown) off in their corresponding directions. Very few possible combinations make getting across the city by Subte almost impossible. That is currently being addressed and with the planned constructions of Lineas F, G and I linking up lines, moving horizontally will be made easier. (See proposed new plan below). 

So although the cost of ticket might be slightly more expensive, and travelling on the Subte can sometimes be an extremely crowded experience, especially during the rush hours, if you can put up with the delays it remains a safe and always interesting way to get around during which you will nearly always be amused by those entertainers and salesmen who who make a living from the Subte with their guitars, drums, pipes, juggling balls and cheap products for sale.

Line F, G and I are proposed

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