26 April 2007

Traffic in Rosario: rant one

I've previously spoken of traffic in Rosario. This topic is also one of the favourite of newcomers in Argentina as a whole. Despite the horrific rate of accidents, nobody understands how the death toll is not higher, or how the system works at all instead of grinding to a complete halt in a kind of perpetual traffic jam. Don't worry — I don't get it either.

What follows is my personal experience as a carless person who uses the bus daily (and often more than once), rides a bicycle twice a week at least, and walks a lot around many places. First, the bus...

For those not accustomed, riding the bus is an adventure. You signal at it, and the driver may or may not see you. By law, cars cannot park 15 meters from any corner, and in the case of bus stops, 30 meters; in reality, people park their cars within mere centimeters of other cars and up to the very corner. The bus should ideally slow down, place itself parallel to the sidewalk and close enough that the person is not forced to come down to the street before getting on the bus; in reality, the bus usually winds its way among misparked cars and stops in the middle of the street. When two buses do this at once, the driver might choose to overcome the other bus on the far side, leaving behind the would-be passengers desperately waving at it from the sidewalk.

There are no queues for the bus here in Rosario, as I understand there are in Buenos Aires. People just gather as the bus stops, and then it's sauve qui peut. School kids and teenagers consistently lack the minimum of education and civility to let pregnant women and handicapped people go first. I used to be corteous — I let women and senior people get on the bus first; then I noticed several things: 1) nobody ever said thank you for it; 2) feminists fought long for gender equality; 3) seniors, especially women, are the least polite of people — they always elbow their way into the bus regardless of anything. Therefore I only let pregnant mothers, people carrying babies (real babies, not just older kids that refuse to walk), senior citizens with obvious difficulties to walk or stand, blind people, other people with canes or prosthetic limbs, and the like. Screw "ladies first". Screw schoolkids too — they're young and they do nothing all day, so they can wait. And it'd be nice if they gave a seat to their not-so-elders.

Once you're in the bus, the driver will try to take you to your destination, even if that takes running over cyclists and bark insults at car drivers to make room. Remember this is a public transport "professional" behind the wheel of a large vehicle, and he makes AR$4,000 a month — more than twice what a medical chief of residents in a hospital makes, more then three times what an elementary school teacher makes.

Now, so you don't think I'm just an ever-nagging old man, I do think Rosario's bus system is a wonderful thing to have. I've been to other large cities where buses are old and worn out, their routes are extremely limited, and the frequency is irregular and very spaced, so you have to rely on an also defective, and expensive, taxi fleet.

My current pet peeve, however, is car parking. If you thought my capacity to rant was limited, that'll prove you wrong.

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