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September 2, 2014
Monday, June 2, 2014

In the city that never sleeps, the subte is sent to bed early

By Jayson McNamara
Herald Staff

What happens to a “city that never sleeps” when its underground train service shuts down by 11pm? Well, at best, it goes to bed. At worst, it’s forced to ponder a range of social problems and missed economic opportunities, says one City legislator pushing for BA’s subte to return to its historic closing time of 1.20am.

If successful, the bill could see BA’s subte on track — so to speak — with other underground networks in the region where trains run up to or beyond midnight.

“It would allow workers, students, and anyone having to function in and around the city late at night to make it home safely,” the legislator behind the bill, Maximiliano Ferraro, told the Herald.

He claims that despite City Hall having overlooked the idea for years, the benefits for BA are clear: “The commercial potential is huge. An extension would see a lot of stores staying open later to service commuters and improved traffic conditions. This is also a key time of the night for drunk drivers that we would be addressing, especially on the weekends.”

The subte, which transports about 1.1 millon people each day, opens it doors at 5am Mondays to Saturdays, and 8am Sundays, with the last trains running at 11.00pm Mondays to Saturdays and 10.30pm on Sundays. One hundred years ago — and until as recently as 1994 —the last service was at 1.20am.

In cities like Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago de Chile, among others, underground public transport services close at midnight, while the metros of Paris and Barcelona take things one step further: in Paris, commuters can ride the underground until 1.40am on Fridays and Saturdays, while in Barcelona, the metro is open until 2am Saturday morning and all through the night, Saturday through Sunday. In Madrid, closing time is 2am daily.

For Ferraro, who represents the Civic Coalition-ARI, there are simply “no excuses” not to have the BA subte running on a timetable that’s similar to other underground services around the world.

Off the rails

The bill comes after a lengthy stand-off between Mayor Mauricio Macri’s City Hall and the national government over control of the subte, which formally ended in January, 2012 when the service passed into the City’s hands.

Previously, some officials in the ruling PRO party, including Cabinet Chief Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, had pronounced themselves in favour of extended hours, all the while leaning on the argument that since the service was not under City Hall’s watch, porteños could only dream of the day the subte chugged past midnight.

“Adding a nocturnal service, albeit at a lower frequency, is important, there’s no doubt about it,” Larreta had said in 2010, recognizing in a radio interview that in “the majority of cities across the world” underground services ran later than Buenos Aires’ subte. “It would be good to do something like that, but the subte is regulated by the national government,” he added. “We’ve been demanding control but we still don’t have it.”

City Hall, since taking control of the subte in 2012, has gone about increasing ticket prices (supposedly in line with inflation despite the current 4.50-peso fare facing several injunction requests), and undertaking a series of infrastructure projects like the extension of Line H. But two years after the deal, this city that supposedly never sleeps is still going to bed early, with an extended subte schedule well-and-truly absent from PRO’s public transport agenda.

A spokeswoman from SBASE, the City Hall company that owns the service, said that “ideas to improve the subte are always welcome, but today our priority is improving the current service which means continuing with programmed works that take place at night.”

SBASE agreed that low frequency services late at night would also bring their fair share of costs, including the wages of extra drivers, security guards and station workers, costs which are absent in the bill and will have to be debated in the legislature. (The average driver earns 15,000 pesos a month, with SBASE estimated to be paying around 100 million pesos per month in total wages.)

According to Ferraro, the proposal could be discussed as early as Thursday in the Publics Work Committee.

“We need 31 votes, which in the opposition we’re confident about,” Ferraro said. “But I don’t want to risk a veto from the mayor, so that’s why I’m looking for consensus.”

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