Bus, Autobus, Micro: Get Where You Need to Go in Santiago

Headshot of Maggie Peyton.
Maggie Peyton
October 7, 2022

My last post was all about public transportation, and specifically a comparison of the train systems in Santiago, Chicago, London, and New York. If you haven´t read it already go, go, go!

This is a follow-up, and I will be focusing in this article on bus systems.

Santiago has the most unique bus design I´ve ever seen. It changes from bus to bus sometimes, but generally includes steps up to different levels, and an eclectic combination of seats facing each other and facing inward, etc. as well as some spaces besides seats that are only wide enough to stand in. On occasion it translates into being more space for people with disabilities and/or those with strollers or carts to use more comfortably, though I have yet to see them put to use in this way to a degree that the design makes sense.

One of the coordinators here in Santiago was telling me that a place I had mentioned going to was ´not that accessible´ because I would have to take a bus and a train to get there. As someone who would regularly travel across Chicago by public transportation to go see friends and go to work, I almost laughed: the bus I take here has a maximum wait of 10 minutes, and the ride is super short—I would walk it, but the bus really is faster because of the designated bus lanes they have. In Chicago, my best friend´s house is a 15 minute walk, a 20+ minute train ride, and a 20+ minute bus ride from my parent´s house. This bus is notorious for long wait times too, so there´s no guarantee when I'll actually arrive—it could be a wait of 5 minutes or it could be 40. 

Chicago and Santiago apply similar policies of attempting to fill the holes left behind by their train systems with buses. The routes are very distinct - without the grid system that Chicago boasts, Santiago´s bus paths are very creative in comparison, although the two systems are still very similar at times. I asked one of my Chilean friends who lives far from the city center how their experience was with the lack of trains by where they live, and they said it isn´t too bad because there are “more bus routes every day.”

London's buses come frequently, and in the famous double-decker style. An important comparison between Chicago and Santiago that threw me off at first is that they don´t announce bus stops here; they expect you to know where you are and when you need to get off, which took me a day or two to get used to. In comparison, Chicago has signs in the buses that tell you what the next stop is. An important similarity is that both systems don´t stop at every station—only the ones you indicate. Due to this, when I first got here I would get confused about how many stops I had left and be worried about knowing where to get off, which still affects me sometimes.

The biggest difference between Santiago and the public transportation in the States is that here they have *designated bus lanes.* They're kind of magical because they make bus trips massively more efficient. They have them in the three comunas I know best: Providencia, Ñuñoa, and Las Condes—and I love them. I've very jealous that we don´t have them in Chicago, but also horrified at the thought of expanding our streets. Basically, I am jealous in spite of knowing better.

Keep in mind that these two posts are only a bit over a thousand words put together—and that I haven´t even mentioned when the trains stop, the intercoms, bike lanes, the set up of train stations, or water taxis. Unfortunately, I can´t write forever, and you can´t read forever. Essentially, there are a lot of positive things to be said about Santiago´s public transportation system, and a lot of things about it that the systems in the U.S. are lacking. I would say that the moral of the story is for the U.S. to invest more in public transportation. Just an idea...

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Headshot of Maggie Peyton.

Maggie Peyton

My name is Maggie and I'm from Chicago, Illinois (one of the best cities in the States in my completely unbiased opinion). I'm left-handed, could watch Encanto every day, and I am a huge fan of the singer-songwriter Mitski. I study Public Policy at the University of Illinois in Chicago and am excited to learn more about Santiago. I hope to find a community away from the one I have at home and make Santiago my own.

2022 Fall, 2023 Spring
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University of Illinois at Chicago
Public Policy
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