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More on the Meaning of Work in Argentina

June 18, 2009

How does one rate a public transportation system? Punctuality? Cleanliness? Accessibility? Speed?

Waiting for the bus in Argentina is an exercise in patience: there are no schedules and at best you are relying on the knowledge of your neighbors, local business owners, or other bus drivers to tell you whether a bus line runs after 11pm and if so how often.

Not only do you not know when the bus will come, but inevitably when they do come, they come in a pack of 3 or 4 busses. Crazy! If I am trying to get the maximum number of people from A to B why would I clump my vehicles together?

What’s more, and what specifically speaks to the value of work in Argentina, is the fact that a very high percentage of busses simply do not stop for you. You waive your arms like crazy, scream, whistle and holler and they drive right by.

And they are NOT off-duty. The off-duty ones say as much on their display. It has happened countless times where a bus driver will even make eye contact with me and continue driving by, as if to say “Take it up with our complaints department.” Of course, this leaves me fuming.

But is it really the driver’s fault that he doesn’t care about stopping for me (and the countless other people I’ve witnessed cursing busses whizzing by)? I say only partially.

Of course, the ultimate control over whether the bus stops at a given place lies in the hands of the driver. But what incentive does he have to stop? Nearly none. Only his own sense of morals, the desire to help people get from A to B, and a sense of work ethic/desire to do a good job.

There is virtually no way for the public to hold him accountable for what he does. There are very few complaint departments for these bus lines and even the ones who have complaint departments do not put great emphasis on improving customer relations. Why would they? People have no alternative. If you want to get from my house to Corrientes and Scalabrini Ortiz, you can take the 15. That’s it. If you want to get from my house, to my in-laws house, you can take the Suarez train line. Period. Sure other areas of the city may have more options, but not a lot.

Ironically some bus lines do develop a reputation. The 60, for example, is known for running quite frequently and going through many different neighborhoods. The 63, on the other hand, which I used to take to basketball practice all the time, runs extremely erratically and infrequently. I would show up all the time at the bus stop to a huge line of people saying, “they just keep driving by,” or “no viene (it’s not coming)”.

The responsibility of getting the buses to actually stop for people and perhaps adhere to a schedule (one step at a time, eh), resides, though, in the hands of the owners. If complaint departments don’t exist or don’t do their job, then the company as a whole doesn’t really care about its customers. And if upper management and middle management don’t do anything to improve customer service, you certainly can’t entirely blame the driver for acting irresponsibly or selfishly.

So why don’t the majority of Argentine companies care about their customers? More on that in another post…

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