The intensity of the frustration and sense of defeat on her face surprised me. After all, a seventy-five centavo raise (or less than twenty cents) is not such a big deal, right? While standing at the bus stop, I mentioned the recently announced fare hike from 1.25-2 pesos minimum to ride the bus through the city of Buenos Aires, the other passenger asked me for some coins, because she did not have enough. I told her the increase would not take place for two more weeks. The panicked look was replaced by one of resignation.
Upon entering the bus, she immediately struck up a conversation with two other passengers, whom she did not previously know. The shock and disappointment was clear as they recounted the recent public transportation cuts with hurried hand gestures. They have good reason to complain. Argentina and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires have been slashing funding for public transportation for many years, leaving the city with reduced service and increased fares on intercity rail, the subway and the bus system. These changes are threatening both current levels of mobility, especially for the working poor, as well as the potential for long-term reliance on public transit for the city as a whole.
Earlier this month, Metrovías, the company in charge of running the subway in Buenos Aires announced it was removing 20 trains from its rails. These changes have increased wait times drastically, by more than a third in many cases, causing frustrations and reducing the sense of reliability. Even more, these cuts in service come on the heels of a 127% increase in the cost of riding the subway that occurred six months ago. Following the announcement in January that the federal government would cut funding in half, the fare raise caused a decrease from 1,200,000 to 900,000 passengers daily. Looking at how seriously a 1.40 peso raise affected ridership, one can predict similarly disastrous results with the bus hike. The subway is, unfortunately, just one from a long list of public transport systems to suffer recently.
By looking at the collapse of the system of trains that connected the capital to the countryside, one can see the importance of collective, public transportation. In Pino Solanas´s film La próxima estación he details how the train system, privatized in the 1990´s, has now reduced its fleet by more than 80%. Due to this reduction, many smaller population centers have been reduced to ghost towns, while the environmental and economic inefficiency of the cars that have partially replaced the trains continue to drain the country´s resources.
While the government has provided the city with a few large projects, such as Bus-Rapid Transit and large highways, these projects have failed to compensate for other cuts and even contribute to decreased mobility. The various ways that the government supports car ownership leaves all of us, but especially those of us without access to a car, more isolated and polluted. As the city changes its appearance and shifts its transportation options, public transit becomes less visible and available, while the car is becoming increasingly naturalized.
Whether looking at history over two decades or six months, the news around public transportation a clear pattern has emerged and continues to unfold in the Argentina transport sector. Public transportation systems are privatized and profit takes the front seat, leaving people and the services they need in the dust. These cuts have left many citizens with limited access to vital goods and services, creating a society less equal and less prosperous. As new cuts and fare hikes become the norm, public transit can seem more of an annoyance instead of a necessity. Argentina would do well to fund public transit, doing its best to create a more mobile and equal country.