Lanes vs lines: using the bus system in BA

Juan Manuel Fangio, an Argentinian, won the Formula 1 championshipFangio.png 5 times, a record that stood for 46 years until it was beaten by Michael Schumacher in 2003.

Most present day Buenos Aires bus drivers believe that they are JMF re-incarnated; that traffic rules are more on the order of guidelines, if that; and that pedestrians will move out of the way – these guys would thrive in Beijing traffic. The bus drivers also have an aversion for stopping for more than the absolute minimum time at any bus stop, unless there is a pregnant or elderly lady waiting.

Ignoring the traffic rules goes for most everyone who drives in BA; it’s somewhat of a free for all where a “lane” means “a place where I feel like putting my car/bus/truck, and/or a place that may be too narrow, but I will insert my car/bus/truck into it anyway”.

So, while bus drivers ignore lanes, in contrast waiting in line for the bus is incredibly civilized. People line up one by one, or at most two by two, behind the bus stop sign; there is no cutting in line, no thickening the line, no lining up from two sides. Amazing.

When we booked out first apartment in BA, more on this in the next post, Karen and I thought it would be no more than a one hour walk to the school where we are taking intensive Spanish lessons, or to downtown. As it turns out, it’s more on the order of a 90 min walk. So for the past few days, we have been using the BA bus system to get around.

Now Karen and I were in BA two years ago, but we only spent 3 days in BA. As a short-term tourist, there was no way we were going to use the Collectivo, the local bus system. Here’s what Frommer’s has to say about it:

However, for most visitors, buses aren’t a great or even good option because routes are very hard to decipher and, unless you know the city very well, you’re likely to get lost. “

As we were short-term tourists in 2009, taxi’s were the way to go.

One of the things I have been looking forward with this Adventure is being able to spend enough time in a particular location to learn how people live, and how things work, e.g. the BA bus system. And what a bus system. Different from say New York City, there is no centralized bus system, instead BA is served by 140, One Hundred Forty, different private, albeit government subsidized, bus lines. And you don’t really have to connect from bus to bus. Instead the bus system operates on a point to point system: you figure out where you are and the list of bus lines that operate in that vicinity, then you figure out where you want to go and what list of bus lines operate in your destination vicinity, then you determine the Venn diagram overlap between the two lists. Presto, you know what buses you can take. (Better description here, and here, and read them for the flavor of what else is involved with the mechanics of actually getting on the bus). And it only costs $US 0.30 to take the bus!

After the initial trepidation of getting on the first bus, not that complicated and quite enjoyable.


2 thoughts on “Lanes vs lines: using the bus system in BA

  1. do Boolean rules apply to the public transit Venn diagrams? Love this one, Henrik, Bill and I are devoted public transit takers when we travel, looking forward to more. How long are you guys in BA?

    • But of course Boolean applies, Marcy. And, btw, you are the world’s best blog groupie!

      The truck / camper, which I learned today is called a “casa rodante” – rolling/traveling house – will arrive in BA on Oct 5th. If everything goes to plan, we should be out of BA the day after…


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