Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chile: the economics of colectivos

The form of transit least recognizable to Americans here is the colectivo, an armada of small black Japanese-made sedans that drive a route just like a bus would, except it's a car. They're more expensive than the bus, up to 300% more if you take them from one end of their route to the other, but they tend to be faster and more comfortable, especially if you're carrying a bunch of stuff to stash in the trunk.

The colectivos are usually modified on the inside in ways I'm used to from riceboys back home, often with tachyometers, funky lights, steering wheel covers, and the windshield-washer switch re-purposed for an attention-getting electronic siren that's quieter and less obnoxious than the horn. Most have a designer fire extinguisher glued onto the passenger side of the windshield. One guy last night had lines and lines of blue LEDs shining right into his face, which was a little unnerving because it made seeing out of the car challenging.

The customization begs the question of who actually owns them. My housemate Steve is a public transit aficionado, so he asked a driver, who said he worked for a company that owns the car. I found that plausible, but unsatisfying.

Luckily, the doorman at school, Salverio, drives a colectivo the rest of the time, and he offered to take me driving around Valparaiso (which was awesome, and I saw some places, especially bad ones, I would never have gone to otherwise). I asked him, and he said that his friend owns the car, and Salverio rents it when his friend isn't working. There are no official companies for the routes, but the city issues licenses for each route.

It seems likely that if Steve understood his driver correctly, there's a company or a co-op that owns the cars, but it sounds like that's just another way to solve the problem of not letting the cars sit idle, since one driver can't maximize usage of the car, what with sleeping and everything. Renting the car out when you're not using it is another solution.

1 comment:

  1. and for your money, sometimes you get to witness random street fighting!