June 9, 2011 ·

The 'No Change' Buenos Aires Phenomenon


no change sign

When you prepare your trip to Buenos Aires, among many useful phrases to learn like the basic greetings, ‘Hola, cómo estás?’, make sure to remember this phrase too: ‘No hay monedas,’ which means ‘There are no coins.’ You will come across this phrase quite regularly in the city. It’d be scribbled on a piece of paper, taped at the cashier in the supermarket, at the kiosk, in the taxi or even in the ticket booth of the subway stations. Coin shortage is a known daily life nuisance in this city, especially there are still quite some daily life routines, like taking the bus or simply buying an alfajore (sweet biscuit snack), still call for the use of coins. When you begin to pay something for AR$11 with one AR$5 bill and three AR$2 bills, rather than the more direct one AR$10 bill plus AR$1 coin, then you know you have started to turn porteño!

I have seen quite some creative calculations by vendors, who can do maths on the fly like a crazy scientist. If maths is not your forte however, no worries, there’s another way to ease the situation. Since a few years ago, the government has started to introduce the Monedero Card, which is now called SUBE. (If you were lucky to inherit a Monedero card, it’ll still work just fine.) It is a plastic card which you can add any amount of money to it at any subway ticket booths or at certain kiosks. The card itself doesn’t cost you extra, you just need to ask for one at the subway ticket booth and tell the person in charge how much you want to put on it. Sometimes smaller stations may run out and you’d have to go to the bigger or busier ones to get one.

The subway has been fully installed with the system for a couple of years now. When each trip costs AR$1.10 and if you really didn’t have the 10 cents, there were occasions that they couldn’t sell you a ticket because they had no change! So now, everyone is loving the card! However, the bus system still has a long way to go. According to a report earlier this year, the electronic payment system was supposed to be installed on all the buses by end of 2009. By early 2011, among the 340 lines of buses in the city, only 12% have them functioning on board. With this small percentage, bus riders aren’t giving up their coin collecting habit anytime soon. Hopefully, as they promised, all the buses would be equipped with SUBE by the end of this year, and really putting a dent in the coin shortage problem.

In the meantime, if you are visiting the city and are planning to stay for a while, still get yourself one of these cards. It’ll for sure help in some ways so that you can keep the coins for the real emergency, like buying the AR$3.50 chocolate bar!


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