Above: a view of 9 de Julio — the main avenue that runs through Buenos Aires.
Buenos Aires has a pretty good public transportation system, which I use at least twice every weekday to get to and from my internship. There’s the metro — “subte” — system, which has various lines that go in and out of the main parts of the city, and the bus — the “colectivo” — that basically goes everywhere.
Using the colectivo is a bit complicated, and I admit that it took me a few days before I really got the hang of it. If you want to get somewhere in Buenos Aires using the colectivo, the first thing to figure out is which bus to take — all the routes are listed in a “Guia T” booklet, or can be found online. However, neither source provides actual locations of bus stops, only the streets each bus goes down. So, in order to find a bus stop, you have to walk down a given street for a bit until you find the sign for the bus posted on the side of the road. Also, there isn’t a schedule of any sort so you just have to wait until a bus comes — but that isn’t too bad: I haven’t had to wait more than about 15 minutes since there are lots of buses coming and going all the time (in fact, I’ve seen two or three buses of the same line right in front of each other).
The next step is flagging down the bus, which is done by frantically waving your arms in the air for a bit until you’re pretty sure the driver sees you.
The bus drivers always seem to be in a rush, and barely wait for everyone to get on before they start pulling away and close the door. When you do get on the bus, you must tell the driver your destination — such as an intersection or major landmark — or else just say that you’ll pay 1.20 pesos. The cost of a ride depends on where you’re going, but it won’t be any more than 1 peso, 20 centavos (1 peso = 100 centavos), which is about US $0.27; this latter method of just saying “uno veinte” is quite useful if you have no clue where you are or where exactly you’re headed.
Perhaps the most annoying thing is that the buses only accept coins — “monedas” — which are rather hard to come by. (Actually, there are also “sube” cards to which you can add value and just swipe across a scanner every time you get on the bus — I really need to get one of those…) You put the monedas in a machine next to the driver, and a little receipt come out along with your change.
The bus drivers here have a habit of braking and accelerating very abruptly, so quickly finding a seat or a handle bar is of the utmost importance if you don’t want to go flying into your fellow passengers.
When you want to get off — which is usually more of a guessing game than an exact science, as you don’t know where the bus stops are unless you’re very familiar with the routes — you must press a button near the exit door, which is in the middle of the bus, and the driver will stop at the next stop. The door in the front is only for getting on, and the door in the middle is only for getting off — I learned this the awkwardly hard way the first time I rode the bus by myself, when I stood by the front door and just sort of looked hopefully at the driver until he realized that I had no clue what I was doing and pulled over to let me off.
The driver usually opens the door while the bus is still in motion, and I have seen people jump off before it fully stops. Finally, beware! As most of the streets here are one-way, the buses don’t retrace the same routes on the way back. So if you want to return to where you came from, you will probably have to find a whole different route (I also learned this the hard way).
Now for the subte. I’ve only actually ridden the metro here once, and that was with someone who knew what he was doing. Generally, the subte costs twice as much as the colectivo, but can be faster depending on where you’re going and the time of day. Moreover, it seems like the trains don’t always — or even usually — go in the same, consistent direction; the conductor will announce which way the train is going, and at that point hoards of people will frantically jump on and off. During rush hour, the subte can be quite crowded, and often there is literally no room for a single extra person.
The subte here stops running around 11pm, and while the colectivo keeps going all night (which is actually extremely convenient), sometimes taking a cab is easier, albeit it more expensive, especially when coming back from boliches (night clubs/bars) at 6 or 7am. I’ve heard that Radio Taxi is the safest and most trustworthy company, and I don’t intend to test their quality against that of others. The taxi rates here seem very reasonable — about 20 pesos (US $4.50) for a 15-minute ride across town.
As for cars, they appear to be relatively modern and I’ve seen more European models than those from across the pond, and also far fewer of the large behemoths that Americans seem to enjoy so much. As I mentioned before, most of the streets here except for the major avenidas (avenues) are one-way, so I’d imagine driving around the city can be a bit complicated. Finally, and thankfully, both the cars and pedestrians do adhere to the rules of the road, and vehicles do generally give the people a wide berth.
Correction: This post was edited on June 16th to reflect the following correction: the original version of this post mistakenly said the colectivo closed around 11pm or midnight, when in fact it is open 24 hours.