As an American in Argentina for the first time ever, I quickly realized the way to get from my Palermo apartment to the Herald’s newsroom in Microcentro: take the 140 bus.
At first, I bemoaned the prospect. My current hometown of Los Angeles, California is not exactly known for the best transportation, nor the most efficient traffic in the world. Sitting for hours upon hours on a slow moving, lethargic behemoth of a vehicle stuck behind a mile (or kilometer) of cars is not exactly my cup of tea.
Fear not, however, my fellow always-on-the-movers and in-a-rushers. The bus system in Buenos Aires is a completely different story. If you’ve ever seen the third Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, imagine the Knight Bus that barrels through the streets of London, barely squeezes by other buses, and nearly takes a couple pedestrians out along the way. Then you’ll have a more accurate image of a bondi — the Argentine word for bus.
In my limited time in Buenos Aires, I have developed a newfound passion for telling anyone who will listen how great the buses in this city are. When I say these bus drivers drive fast, I mean fast. The first time I got on one of the buses along with some fellow UCLA students, the last one to get on nearly fell over. She had barely set one foot on the bus before the bus driver clamped the doors shut and slammed on the gas, leaving her and her reflexes to yank the rest of her body inside. This is just one of the many differences between the Los Angeles and Buenos Aires bus experiences.
Another important difference to note. You can’t just dawdle along at the bus stop and expect a driver to stop for you. These colectiveros have places to be. If you want to secure your spot on the bus, you have to stick your arm out to signal to the approaching driver, similar to hailing a taxi. No idleness allowed.
Once you are on the bus, you better know exactly where you’re getting off. Not just the general area, or the landmark near it. Before you’re allowed to pay your fee, you have to tell the bus driver exactly which bus stop you’re getting off at: have the intersection of the street corners ready. If you tell him somewhere that’s not on the bus’s route, prepare yourself to make an embarrassing exit. No wasting the other prepared passengers’ time.
My one gripe with the bus is how observant you have to be once you take a seat (if you’re able to get one). One thing that I do like about the Los Angeles bus system is that it has an intercom announcing the next stop as you approach it. There’s no such thing on the Buenos Aires bus. Here, you must pay attention to how far along the route you are: if you don’t see your stop approaching and remember to press the orange button alerting the driver, they will go right past it and you’ll miss your stop.
In addition, to alert the driver in BA, you have to get up from your seat and hunt down that elusive orange button, unless you had the good fortune of getting a seat right next to it, risking a catastrophic fall from the speed at which the driver accelerates. The LA buses instead have a cord strung along the window from the front to the back of the bus, so you simply have to lean over and give it a yank to notify the driver to your stop. For both systems, if you aren’t familiar with them, it’s best to download a transit app such as Moovit or Transit to map out your route ahead of time, that way you know exactly where to get off.
The Buenos Aires bus system is perfect for people like me, who are easily irritated by slow walkers and people who ask questions that have already been answered. If you aren’t on your feet and ready to go, you’ll miss it. Compared to the Los Angeles bus system, where you can spend upwards of 15 minutes waiting at the bus stop, and once getting on experience a 45-minute drive that should really be half, the buses here in BA are a hustler’s dream. American buses need to catch up, quite literally. The terrifying efficiency and speed modeled by the Buenos Aires buses are the next step to achieving the American dream.