Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Human vs. HAL: Metro cards

This post is part of a series “Human vs. HAL” highlighting a peculiar trend we’ve noticed in Chile. There are many jobs here that are done by people that would be done by machines in the US. We are trying to take photos and notice as many as possible to document here!
For a long time I was calling this a bip card, before I realized it was pronounced BEEP, like the sound it makes when you use it!

In many ways, Santiago seems like part of a completely first-world country. The city is clean, with good infrastructure, very modern shops and supermarkets, and tons of people on smartphones (caveat: obviously this only applies to some parts of Santiago. There are also slums and shantytowns, but we haven’t explored those areas. And even still, this is different than some developing countries because there are at least huge areas that are completely modern).

However, we have noticed that there are some aspects of life here that seem a little different from the US. Specifically, there are quite a lot of jobs here that are done by people, whereas in the US (or at least in Boston) the same job is done by machine. I suspect this is simply because labor is much cheaper here and technology is more expensive – though there could be other reasons as well.

The first example is one that we encounter quite frequently: recharging your public transit card. Of course, in the US we often have little cashier booths with a clerk who can help you re-charge your card, but this is certainly not the common way to do it. In Boston, Chicago, NY and many other places, this transaction now takes place between you and a machine.
This isn't even close to a busy time!

In Santiago, the clerks at the windows still have jobs, and they are very busy too! There are no monthly passes for the metro here, so even if you ride every day you still have to fill your card up every so often. The lines at the booths during rush hour can be very long, even with 3 or more clerks working at once.
As far as I can tell, there seem to be some machines for recharging your BIP! card (as it’s called), but they are never used. I tried to use it once, but I think you need to have a special credit card from Banco de Chile to use it.

So that’s our first example, many more to come! Please chime in with a comment – when you fill your public transit pass in your city, is the transaction with a person or machine?


  1. You can use cash to recharge your Bip! The machines don't take many credit cards, but they do take cash :) I only use the machines to recharge my Bip when I'm in Santiago.

    PS, Me encanta leer tu blog! Parece que estan disfrutando lo mas posible en Santiago!

  2. Public transit in New Orleans? Haha, funny joke. I think this city is more like a developing country than Santiago.