Friday, May 29, 2015

The Calibradores, a Job in Extinction?

Calibradora Blanca gives information to a bus driver.
You might have wondered what those people you see dashing thru traffic and having hurried conversations with bus drivers, notes in hand, are doing. They are calibradores, and earn a few coins by informing of how far ahead the preceding bus on the same route is running ahead of them. That enables drivers of those traditional private buses to time themselves to not follow too closely after another bus serving the same route.

It's unpleasant, dangerous work, dodging among vehicles, swallowing diesel fumes and being subjected to blaring horns. But the calibradores, many of them homeless people, have few skills or other work options. If they did, after all, they wouldn't likely be doing this in the first place.

But the calibradores may have only a few days work left, if Bogotá follows thru with its plan to integrate the traditional private buses into the publicly-run SITP bus system. Since the SITP buses run on coordinated, centrally-controlled routes, the calibradores reason for being will disappear.

Blanca on Carrera 10, her workplace.
Blanca, who was working Carrera 10 at its intersection with Avenida Jimenez, told me she'd been a calibrador for about four years, despite having university studies.

"I had to fight for this space," she said, against other calibradores, mostly homeless men, who also work the avenue.

Her profession "is an example of maldicia indigena," she said, using a term for native Colombian ingenuity.

She showed me the 200 peso coin which her last bus driver client gave her, and a sheet of paper where she noted the times when buses passed by. On a typical day she can earn about 20,000 pesos - less than U.S. $10.00, she said.

"I'm poor because I'm honest."

Blanca's notes of what times which
bus lines passed by at what times. 
The city's plan to convert the traditional private buses into SITP buses faces challenges, in particular changing the culture of buses stopping wherever they like - bus stop or no bus stop - to pick up and drop off passengers. Passengers will have to get used to paying by card rather than cash, as they do on the traditional private buses.

Blanca blames the change on 'capitalism,' and even manages to blame the United States. But the private buses are an example of unbridled, nearly unregulated capitalism. The SITP system is managed by City Hall.

And will the switch to SITP mean anything more than a change in colors? The city promoted the SITP system as a solution to, among other things, traffic congestion and pollution. But many of the SITP buses run nearly empty; and many SITP buses are themselves highly polluting.

Blanca, for her part, feels certain that the the change won't really happen. Perhaps that's wishful thinking.
A bus crier, another endangered proffesion.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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