25 January 2007

Rosario bus fee raised

I guess that's enough with Mendoza already... There are news over here too!

This is not exactly news, though it was unexpected. The municipality just raised the urban bus fee from 0.95 to 1.20 pesos; the 6-trip prepaid card rose from 5.40 (each trip for AR$0.90) to 6.90 (AR$1.15/trip); all in all it's over 25%, quite a brutal hack to one's pockets. The political cost is going to be high. The executive branch (mayor Miguel Lifschitz) asked the Socialist-dominated legislature of Rosario to grant it the power to raise the fee. The Deliberative Council complied at once, eager to shift the political cost to the mayor, who has kept a low profile and a high approval rate. Lifschitz conditioned the fee increase to the results of a study of the costs of public transportation, but it was obvious that the fee was going to go up regardless. The opposition was quick to point out that the delegation of legislative powers was done too fast, during the holiday season (everybody knows nobody pays attention to the news during the summer holidays!), and denounced a previous secret agreement between the mayor and the companies that own the bus line concessions (and that will participate in the re-designed public transportation scheme to be implemented a few months from now). Basic knowledge of realpolitik tells me this is probably true; the companies will not invest in a system that doesn't give them enough profit.

The root of the problem, however, is the combination of last year's huge salary raise for bus drivers (that was presented to the media as the resolution of a conflict between the drivers' union and the companies, but was rather clearly, except for the most naïve, a mis-en-scene to appease the drivers and to get the companies an argument to push for a fee increase) and the national parliament's preference for Buenos Aires City in the issue of subsidies to fuel for public transport — which is why bus tickets in Buenos Aires remain at around 80 cents while the big cities in the rest of the country (Córdoba, Mendoza, and now Rosario) have had to raise them to over AR$1.10, from previous values around 90 cents.

Buses in BA carry a lot of passengers from the impoverished metropolitan area, to be sure, but the cost of living in that area is considerably higher than that of the rest of the country (I'm told a cup of coffee can be around 4 pesos in BA — you can get a medium cup of coffee with milk plus two medialunas for less than 3 pesos in Rosario). Why is the bus fee kept artificially low in BA? BA has trains and a subway, and of course people there have many more cars and many more taxis available in proportion (BA has a taxi per 80 people — Rosario has about 1 per 350 people). Moreover, with a national government that constantly pressures private companies and interferes with the market to keep the prices of basic products depressed, what sense does it make to let public transportation become so expensive? An average worker in Rosario may now spend between 6 and 8% of his or her monthly salary just to get to and back from work.

I use the bus a lot (maybe 90 bus trips a month when I'm going to Japanese class); despite my willingness to exercise, I just can't go to work on foot or by bicycle; it's too far away and I can't possibly wake up even earlier than I do now. I can pay for the difference, but I shouldn't. My bike got out of repairs just yesterday and I think I'm going to start putting it to use...

Meanwhile, the transport officials of the municipality say the bus system is working fine and will be even better, the everyday bus users are complaining about the quality and frequency of the service, the taxi drivers want their own fee to be increased even more to compensate, and at least one person is attempting to block the fee increase by a judicial interdiction. The taxi owners are also complaining that they will have lots of work because the bus won't be advantageously cheap enough (what do you call a businessman who complains because his product has a large demand?).


  1. At least argentina has an efficient and relatively cheap public transport system...in england, my purportedly first world country of birth, public transport is a complete joke. well, it would be if it weren't so hideously expensive. we have a virtually non-existent bus service outside of london, in London the Tube is unbelievably expensive and totally unreliable and the trains all over the country are even worse. last time i was there, a 2 and a half hour journey on the train cost me £43.85. 250 pesos. One way. And it arrived over an hour late.

    The buses and Subte in BA always make me wonder how we got it so wrong in England.

  2. I'm sorry (and surprised) to hear that. I was under the impression that Europe in general was public-transport-friendlier than that. It's quite an irony when you remember that British companies were the ones that set up most of the railways in Argentina, creating a convenient and inexpensive system of transportation for people and goods that would last decades.

  3. It's actually just britain that has an appalling public transport service in western europe-every other country has efficient and pretty cheap systems.

    a while ago, a newspaper did a little test: it compared the time it took to get from london to cardiff, wales on the train in 1904 and how long it took in 2004. the 21st century trip took around 45 minutes longer! the british rail network (and the networks we set up in argentina, chile and other parts of the world) was once the envy of the world. Now it's a joke. Except it's not funny.

    The main problem is that the highest rate of tax in britain is 40%. in france, spain, italy, germany and most other european countries the top rate is 60% and those governments either own or heavily subsidise their networks. Our transport network was all privatised by Thatcher and subsequently run into the ground by a succession of money grabbing incompetent fools. 100s of small villages lost their rail connections and buses became even less frequent than before. The government still subsidises the network to some extent but not by very much: hence poor service and high prices. A yearly ticket for a 30-40 minute commute into London can cost up to 25,000 pesos a year!

    despite the moaning and bitching whenever the mere idea of a 0.5% rise in income tax rears its ugly head, the british are actually under-taxed. This is why all our public services (basically just transport and health) are extremely poor when compared to other european and first world nations.

  4. Pablo- In Rosario can you use a single ticket to transfer between buses, or is it like BA, where different bus lines are owned by different companies? If I have to take two buses to get somewhere in BA, that's AR$3.20 roundtrip.

    To give you a comparison with an (expensive to live in) North American city, the bus fares in San Francisco for an adult are:
    Monthly - US$45
    Weekly - US$15
    Single ticket - US$1.50 with free transfers up to 90 min (5:00 a.m.-8:30 p.m.), then free transfers 8:30 p.m.-5:00 a.m.

    Tickets are valid on all buses, streetcars, trams, and the rapid transit system (BART) within the city limits. There are discounted fares for kids up to 17, seniors over 65, and people with low incomes.

  5. I'm not sure what you mean... You can pay using a disposable card that you buy elsewhere (shops, vending machines) or with coins in a machine on the bus. There are several bus companies; the fee and the card you use are the same. You can't transfer from one bus to another for the same fee; you just get off one bus, and then get another and pay the full fee again. They're about to modify the system so it's more like the subte in BA, where you pay once and then use as many buses as you need to reach your destination (within a certain time span). Right now the system is a bit unfair because the city is not divided in zones and it costs you the same to go 15 blocks in 5 minutes or to cross the entire city in 1 hour.


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