Santiago’s transportation system can be described in a couple of words. For one, extensive. There is practically no untouched hamlet, no place so far and remote that you cannot access it by micro (bus), feeder bus (they call these "buses de acercamiento", or busses to get you close (but still no cigar) or metro. If those don’t work for you, there’s probably a colectivo, or shared taxi, but nine times out of ten, this is faster (though more expensive), but is seldom your only option. It’s almost always possible to get from point A to point B on public transport. And for this I truly applaud the system.
Another word you could use is crowded. Like really crowded. As in, I’ve been to Tokyo and I grew up in NY and used to take the metro at rush hour in DC, and believe me when I tell you this is unhealthily crowded. Squeeze your ribs, breathe your neighbor’s air, I saw someone’s lunch bag get trapped on the outside of a moving train the other day crowded.
One of the problems it that no one works a staggered schedule here. Everyone comes and goes at pretty much the same time of day, so there’s this critical mass (or should I say masse) of people that have to get from the outer comunas (districts/neighborhoods/municipalities) trying to get downtown. Another problem is that most people seem to have to get downtown. If people worked more spread out over the city (or over time), perhaps the crush would not be so intolerable.
One thing that the metro system has done, since I don’t think the trains could come more frequently (they seem to come more than once every 3-4 minutes by my watch during rush hour), or that the trains could be longer (can you imagine the chaos a broken train would cause?), is to institute “skip-stop service.”
Think about it, “skip-stop service.” Isn’t that descriptive? Don’t you know what I mean? You get on at a main station, and the train skips every other stop. They used to do this with the 1 and 9 trains in Manhattan when I was a kid. Skipstop. Sounds so cute, like a childhood game. I guess in Spanish they could call it saltarín, or jumpity. Or maybe saltito, hoppy! This, I think, would help people to understand the new system. Instead, they have called it Expreso, where each of the letters in Expreso alternate between green and red.
The Expreso service probably gets you where you are going faster, especially given the extreme crowding on the metro, because the whole getting on and off while (hopefully) not trampling your neighbor is time consuming, in addition to potentially painful. Yet everyone I know who doesn’t live or get on the metro at a station that is served by just one train admits to getting confused about which train to get on. I guess over time, and with the help of these handy folios handed out by people in red and green windbreakers (court jester-style, with one half red and one half green) people will figure it out.
But while we are all trying to figure out which train to get on, and figure out where in the world the trains are labeled (this handy picture tells the story), I will continue to ask myself the same question.
Why in tarnation, when there are so very many colors in the world, as well as many other classification systems, did they decide to use red and green to identify the different routes, when there are people in Santiago who refer to the train lines themselves by the colors used to represent them on the map? (Their official names are 1, 2, 4, and 5, and no, I did not accidentally leave out 3, there is no line 3, and no, this is not a joke).
That is to say, if I live on the green line (which I do), why do I then have to choose between the red and green route to decide how to get to where I’m going. If they’d used, oh, I don’t know, cappucino and americano (in keeping with the “expreso” theme, and yes, I know that’s not how it’s spelled), I’d find it a lot easier to remember which was which. But I guess red and green windbreakers are more stylish than beige and brown, though I’d have to guess that the beige and brown would be easier for people who are colorblind to see the difference between. Plus, tasty.
Here’s a detail of the skipstoppiness, where the red and green mean both trains stop there. It may seem crazy that there are three such stops in a row, but two are transfer points to other metro lines, and one is a major transit hub.
In the meantime, I will try to bike everywhere, despite a continuing attempt by motorists to block every single bike lane that exists. If I drink enough espresso maybe I can launch myself over the vehicles. Now that would be jumpity.