May 19, 2013
A new year underground?
Any commuter could be forgiven for failing to spot any difference between the newly municipal subway and the old underground of the last few years in the first working day of City Hall management yesterday but it would be surprising (and disappointing) if the impression of no change were still around by the time this metropolitan service marks its centenary in the last month of this new year. The alternative to more of the same (and for all public services staying in the same place means running harder and harder with ever more Himalayan mountains of subsidies) would be some bold experimentation in both pricing and investment which could serve to show other public services whether there is any way out of their current fiscal traps. It is clear that City Mayor Mauricio Macri is thinking along these lines by floating a six-peso subway token and by closing down the “A” line (probably as from the second weekend of January) for a complete overhaul in the next couple of months — it remains to be seen whether he has both the political will and clout to stay this course in what looks like being a very sticky labour year.
The general assumption is that asking blood, sweat and tears of any modern society is political suicide, especially in an election year, but that assumption could be worth testing. Not only do other countries in the region charge substantially higher public transport fares than this capital without any evidence of anybody’s re-election being jeopardized on this score — venturing beyond this metropolis will reveal higher commuter costs in provinces with generally less capacity to absorb them. Thus a simple bus ticket in Salta costs the same as a subway token here (which is 56 percent higher than the basic bus fare) when per capita income in that northwestern province is only 16 percent of this city’s levels and yet Salta governors do not seem to have problems being re-elected.
As for the investments, these would be well-advised to seek independent sources of funding because ahead of a complete audit of the outgoing regime (with the Subte underground still under the same management for now) and with no way of knowing what lies ahead from a workforce divided between the traditional UTA transport workers union and the Agtsyp shop stewards, any self-financing investments would be a hostage to fortune. And on that latter issue, the co-existence with an overpaid and overstaffed payroll may well be the stiffest test facing the newly municipal underground.