Riding without tickets in Buenos Aires

In my post from earlier today, I mentioned how getting from Parque 3 de Febrero to the Basilica of the Most Holy Sacrament was a story in itself.

While in the park, we had reached a point where we weren’t excited about retracing the entire day’s steps and then continuing on in the other direction. So I pulled up Google Maps on my phone and found the entire Buenos Aires transit system was at my disposal. It turned out the quickest transit route was to take the commuter rail from a nearby station, also called 3 de Febrero, and ride one stop to the terminus, Retiro. That would put us about a ten-minute walk from the basilica.

I asked Kathryn to gauge her level of adventure. She said it was high. I told her the plan, and that I didn’t know if we could even buy tickets at the station. It turned out I was right to be doubtful.

We found the station, and indeed there was no ticket window anywhere. Everyone was scanning a card before entering or leaving the platform. We looked lost, so a railway worker eventually approached us.

I’m mostly guessing what was said next because my Spanish totally sucks.

I told him where we wanted to go and asked if I could buy tickets there. He asked me if we had subes. I asked if a sube was the card everyone had, and he said yes. I said I didn’t have one. He said it didn’t matter, and asked if I wanted to pay in cash. I said yes. So he told us to board the train, and when we get to Retiro, to buy a ticket there.

At about this time, a random stranger, a young woman in this case, stopped to help us. In the last five days, we’ve lost count of how many times a stranger has stopped to offer translation, or sometimes to offer paternalistic advice. In this case, she confirmed what I mostly had already understood, but the confirmation was welcome.

I wasn’t crazy about the idea of riding without a ticket and buying a ticket at the destination. It seemed ass-backwards. I was a bit concerned we’d have to jump a turnstile at Retiro or have to convince a police officer we’d just gotten on at the last station. However, the train arrived, and we got on.

There were no issues aboard the train, but sure enough there were turnstiles at the end of the arrival platform. I scanned the station and noticed there was a gate with two attendants who checked the handful of passengers who had paper tickets.

Again, mostly guessing at the following conversation in Spanish. No one magically appeared to help this time.

I approached the older one and told her we boarded at 3 de Febrero and didn’t have tickets and wanted to buy them there. The younger one spoke up to confirm what I was saying, that you can’t buy tickets at 3 de Febrero. She asked if I planned to pay with cash, and I said yes. So she left her colleague and lead us to the ticket window.

As we were walking to the window, she asked if we were tourists. No, we’re two of the most utterly fucking clueless residents of Buenos Aires. Okay, I thought that part but didn’t say it. Yes, I said, we’re tourists. She said we need a sube because it’s used on all the public transit — trains, buses, subways, everything.

She lead us to the window and waited in line with us. When it was our turn, she told the ticket agent what we needed. The only words I exchanged with the ticket agent were a confirmation of the price.

We gave the tickets to the attendant, and finally we were honest riders. She reminded us about the sube as she returned to her post.

That so far has been our only public transit adventure in Buenos Aires. We’re leaving tomorrow, and for what it’s worth, we still don’t have subes.

2 thoughts on “Riding without tickets in Buenos Aires”

  1. This story reminded me of the 2011 experience when we weren’t able to get off the train in Civitavecchia and ended up continuing on, unpaid, to the next station a long way north. We had to get off, buy another ticket back to Civitavecchia, and run to the train. BTW, I am glad you didn’t speak the F bomb, even though I had to read it ;
    )

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