Editor’s note: This story is a journal entry from the fall 2014 Peru SST unit. It can be found on the current blog and was printed with Miller’s permission.
Bus after bus passes by, each one so impossibly full that I can’t imagine a square inch of floor space that isn’t covered by feet. Yet the people in front of Shina and me manage to squeeze themselves through the door, even if it means that an arm or a bag is left dangling out the door in
That particular morning we waited one hour before even getting on one of the blue buses. So far, the commute to and from Good Shepherd Anglican Church and my house has been the most frustrating part of my time in Peru. An outsider looking on might say, “It’s only because you are a foreigner and are confused by the transportation system in your new country — it’s nothing special.”
But transportation is all Limeños are talking about too, so I went to my host family to really try to understand why transportation is so difficult and why it’s on everybody’s mind.
First of all, I must mention how integral cheap and fast transportation is to Limeños. It is impossible to survive without work, so if getting to work means that Limeños must travel across the city for three hours every morning and every evening, they will do so. The quickest way is by personal car or taxi, but they are also the most expensive ways. The cheapest way for us is by chama (small or micro bus), which costs two soles for long rides (about 70 cents) and 50 centimos (17 cents) for short rides.
Traffic in Lima easily gets out of hand, and it’s likely that during rush hour buses and cars will be sitting in the street for half an hour before moving at all. My father, Jerry, for example, works in San Isidro for the Anglican Church and just stays there from Monday through Friday because it takes so much time to commute that it isn’t worthwhile to return. Taking a taxi every day would use up a big portion of the paycheck.
Commuting often takes up a quarter of a person’s day and determines how much time that person can spend with family or whether life merely switches between sleep, commute and work. Recently, there have been many transportation changes in Lima. Because of the chaos that is Limeñan traffic, the mayor, Susana Villarán, decided to create a new transportation system of blue buses that are advertised as bigger, cleaner and free of chaos.
To promote the Blue Corridor buses, the mayor made them free for the month of September and closed off several main streets to the smaller buses and vans that Limeños typically patronize. The cheap chamas (micro buses) and combies (vans) have had to drastically change their routes to smaller, parallel streets, funneling a massive amount of traffic from large roads to small side streets.
Villarán made a deal that if these smaller buses stopped using these roads permanently, she would wipe traffic violations from their records. This, along with the fact that there are not enough blue buses, means that people went from 30 transportation options to one or two. On my street, San German, buses used to pass constantly. But now, buses come seldom, if at all. The changes force people to take the blue bus system or the Metropolitano bus system, which offers a fast commute on dedicated highway lanes, though at a higher cost.
No one in my family is in favor of the changes and they even spent two hours discussing it with me. They said they don’t like it because it has caused even more chaos in the transportation system. But they also argued that the blue bus system serves primarily the people of Miraflores and San Isidro, two of the wealthiest districts in Lima, and is far less accessible in other parts of the city. Also, people are forced to pay a flat fee of 2 soles no matter how far or close they are going, making it difficult for people who just want to carry their groceries a short distance.
I think the most frustrating part for my family, even more than the long lines and stress that results in shouting and anger on the blue bus and metro, is that these changes were imposed on them without any dialogue about what Limeños actually wanted. My mother commented that she thinks the new system could potentially work if only the government would listen to the needs of the people.
Unfortunately, the new system is set in place for the next 30 years whether Susana Villarán loses the election in October or not, but they are hopeful that at least some changes can be made. Right now, groups of people are protesting the changes and even clashing with the police.
Every Limeño is a stranger to the new transportation system, perhaps making me feel slightly less out of place in this giant city.