December 09, 2004

Getting Around BA and Argentina

The city of Buenos Aires is compact and has more than three million people. There is another seven million in the surrounding suburbs. The city is a federal district, while the suburbs are in one of Argentina's two dozen states, and it is also called Buenos Aires. It is one of the largest states and has 13 million people, seven of whom live next to the city of Buenos Aires. The city is compact; I mean that is about a 9-by-9 mile square, totaling less than 80 square miles. To get the size in to perspective this is not much more than the 59 square miles of Minneapolis. Being small, it is easy to get around. It could be an ideal city for bike travel. There are hundreds of bus lines, several train lines, six subway lines, and thousands of taxis. Costs for all the public transportation are cheap, for example the subway costs about 25 US or 70 centavos. The taxis are also an excellent bargain. You can go almost anywhere in the city for less than $5. We have heard that sometimes there are taxis that are not really taxis, but a platform for a bandit. If this be true, we have seen none of it. If these stories scare you, there is an easy solution to overcoming the fear. You simply use a radio dispatched taxi. There is also a taxi like service called a remis. Remis store fronts abound. There you can also get a car ride to wherever you need. If you are going to just visit or live in Buenos Aires, a car is hardly necessary. If one must have a car, they can be easily rented. Airport rentals are the highest at abut $40 per day. Away from the airport, a rental can be arraigned for $220 a week or less. We ended up doing both. We had an Avis airport rental for four days and national Argentinean rental for a week.

Driving in Buenos Aires can be extremely harrowing. You must always be totally alert. There is a tendency to add lanes where they do not exist. No one can stay in their lane, especially in the curves. Taxis are always trolling slowly in the far right lanes that are also loaded with busses. In general, it is illegal to make left turns on two way streets at semiphores. Luckily most streets are one way; unluckily they are not all regular in alternating direction. True most are in alternating direction, but many are not. I get disgusted with the discourteousness of the drivers. They act as though they must fight for position. When you are standing still in rush hour traffic, this seems a bit ridiculous. No one stops for stop signs. Pedestrians are fair game for the automobile. At night it really gets hairy, especially on the main avenues near the center. Most cars and taxis drive without lights on at night, so walking or driving can be life-threatening. I prefer the taxis at that hour. During the day you only have all the big trucks lumbering through the city to deal with. In some way I wish I did not have a car, because once you have it - you must use it. In other ways it will be a necessity, because Argentina is a big country. Trains don't exist out side the metropolitan area. That only leaves air transportation, if you do not have a car. I will try to get info on air fares to various cities from Buenos Aires in a later posting.

My 1997 Corsa

We spent almost a week looking for a car, and I should have taken another week. Buying a car here is a chore.
We found that cars in our preferred price range ($2000 to $3000) are nearly impossible to find. If low priced used cars exit here, then they are not in the car lots. There are cars a notch up above this proffered range starting at about $4000 (or 12000 pesos). Problem is that we did not budget for the higher range. After the first couple of days of searching, we ended up reevaluating our original plans, and started looking for a car in the $5000 to $5600 range. After a full week of search, on Saturday, we returned to several places to test cars and make offers. I should have bought the Polo, but after driving it, I decided not to buy. In hindsight that would be a mistake. We tested an Escort, but they would not take offer. Essentially they are in a take it or leave it world. Without some negotiation, especially given the high prices here, I could not adjust to their methods here. In the long run, I am sure that this will cost me plenty. Still I feel that used cars should always be sold through the give and take of the market. Not so here. Finally, more out of exhaustion than good sense, I made a deal on a 97 Corsa with 48,000 miles for $5500 with a private individual. We closed the next Monday, the 29th of November - just a little more than one week ago. I made all kind of mistakes in this purchase; I only hope that it doesn't cost me too much in the long run. The biggest problem was that the seller (not the owner) put out several lies that I did not catch. Well, I did not check the car out well enough either. I should have at least caught the minor inconsistencies. I have had some immediate problems that are pointing to major wiring problems. For example the horn did not work. The internal contacts for the horn seemed old beyond their seven years. I had all that fixed and again the horn is not working today. Yesterday, the power window for the driver's side failed to operate. It came back on after some driving. I remember the problems that I had with my Passat before I had a major operation on the wiring. Poor design can lead to corroded wires and leads, but I would not expect such corrosion in a climate such as here. I lost a nut that caused the front bumper to sag. The one good thing that I have learned is that repairs are really cheap here. I won't spell out the other problems with the car. One thing that really pisses me off is that I cannot get hold of the seller. He must have caller ID. I need get him to show me how to punch in the radio code. But he wouldn't talk to me, until I came round to his house. It makes me wonder what else he has to hide. I hope that the bad karma that Juan Batista has created will come around to haunt him.
As Javier told me to begin with, "Buy from a car lot." I should have done that. At least, there you can go back to ask them what gives.

I am sure that there are many reasons to explain why less expensive cars are hard to find. Perhaps there is a great demand for used cars. Maybe they are so poorly made that they don't last very long - creating shortages of older cars. Or just maybe it is the insanely difficult and expensive car registration process. The minimum cost is about $75, but due to all the paper work hassles, many pay someone else to handle the transfer registration. Car lots often change $200 for the service. Another problem is fear of not getting a good title from a private individual. All this adds up to a very strange market place for autos.

Next time I will talk about the neighborhoods of the city and how they work.

Posted by bill at December 9, 2004 09:54 PM