It’s 7pm and the platform is packed. People are waiting anxiously, inching forward alarmingly close to the edge with eyes peeled to the left. The train sounds in the near distance and they ready themselves at the same time as the metro guards spread their arms and shout to stay back. There is only one word to describe what comes next: battle. The doors open and there is a swarm of commuters descending from the carriage … while fighting the ferocious onslaught of those trying to get on. There’s pushing and shoving, people shouting “weon” and once inside (if you make it that is) there is no room to even lift a finger and all manner of things pressed into your bottom.
The metro has a bad reputation amongst locals and foreigners here but it’s fair to say that in (most) countries travel during rush hour is a hectic and trying time. It’s true that the above picture is commonplace and it’s also true that it’s near impossible to find a space if you are disabled, with children or with a pushchair. People are already stressed by the time they arrive on the platform thanks to Santiago’s long working day, and just waiting to use your ticket/Bip card can take half an hour in some stations (looking at you Tobalaba!).
Last night we had to use the metro at exactly that time – and with Emilio. Sometimes there is just no other option. The yellow line was extraordinarily busy. No-one offered us a seat, which is rare because someone usually does. In their defense they probably couldn’t see us over the sea of bobbing heads … and also because they were all taken by middle aged ladies (the WORST culprits for doing the usual eye-avoiding/I’m asleep/I-can-see-you-but-don’t-care-trick). Some people motioned for us to sit down when one of the not-that-old ladies vacated but by then we were getting off at the next stop. At Santa Ana the swarm pushed into Emilio so much that he got very scared but the people around us pushed back to move everyone away from us. When we arrived at Los Heroes it would have been impossible for us to disembark if it hadn’t been for all the people who helped part a path for us and shouted to be careful of the guagua. On the platform it was madness but everyone that saw us gave us a wide berth.
This is something that I think often goes overlooked. For every person pushing, there are five more who will try and help and this goes for the buses and taxis too!. I have found the men to be more helpful than the women (generally), that people nearly always give me a seat without prompting outside of the rush hour, and that often the most helpful people to Luis or myself are the most unsavoury looking men. I also have to point out there has been immense improvement since I was here in 2012. During rush hour there are trains every minute, there are lots of people working to help you, and the Ruta Verde/Roja help make the trip a lot faster. It’s also worth pointing out that in a country where (most) things are privatized, the metro line is state-run – I’m sure TranSantiago would love to have a piece of that pie too because it must be a goldmine of income! The lines are constantly being repaired, lifts are being put in, carriages have been designated as preferential, and drivers are well-trained (its no easy feat to get the job either). A week or so ago, I lost my balance on the metro (darn dizziness!) and then had a full-blown panic attack. I cannot speak highly enough of the young guard who calmed me down, offered to call me an ambulance and then walked me across the station to wait for Luis to rescue me – and he spoke English! I dread to think how much worse it would have been if he wasn’t there, or not as easy to find.
The pressure on the metro during rush hour is intense and I really hope that that improves with all the new lines being put in. Do you know what I wish you could get here? Those badges that show if you need a seat or extra help – there are alot of disabilities that make no outward change to your appearance. For me, it’s very difficult for me to stand on something that is moving or even using stairs – made doubly worse if I’m holding Emilio! It really makes me feel for those amongst us who really need assistence. I don’t think Santiago provides well for the disabled (or am I wrong) and the ultimate day would be when they set aside a whole carriage for those of us with pushchairs or wheelchairs. Sure would help me avoid dirty looks when I have to use the lift!