07 August 2005

This is one part of the bus that is not going anywhere...

I refer here to the cobrador, which in English is "ticket seller."

Most buses in Rio have both a bus driver and a cobrador. When you get on the bus you pay the cobrador, who then lets you pass through the turnstile at the front of the bus. This system contrasts greatly with my experience in the U.S. There you simply drop you coins into a little machine and go find your seat. Why doesn't Rio (and Brasil in general) use the "U.S." system?

The cobrador has some useful functions

  • He or she is able to make change (usually) if you don't have exact fare.
  • He can help you find out where you need to get off the bus (again, mostly).
  • He can control entrance through the turnstile, essentially enforcing correct payment.
  • He can control the exit doors, which is convenient if you want to get off the bus outside a regular stop, but don't want to distract the driver.
Those benefits sound pretty good. Alas, a free lunch generally does. Unfortunately, the cobradores are not volunteer workers. But I'm not here to say cobradores are a waste of money and that their jobs should be eliminated. Perhaps with cheap labor here, the machines that would replace the cobrador are not cost effective. Though I'd say if an automated coin machine cost less than R$20-25k, it would be probably be profitable to make the switich.

But there is another problem in getting rid of the cobrador. The bus fares are typically R$1.80 to R$2.20. You will almost never have this kind of money available in coinage, because the coins are just not valuable enough. Plus each value of coin in use has an old and new version which can be remarkably different. So you are always going to be dealing with paper money or about 10 different types of coins, something that I don't see a machine handling that well, especially on a bumpy bus. So for now it seems, the cobrador stays.

1 comment:

Alex Rixey said...

Don't underestimate the potential of RioCard! (the electronic value-added card for bus-fares). It is somewhat difficult to obtain one, but with a better distribution network, and less prerequisite paperwork, this system could really take off. I think one of the biggest reasons cobradores are still around is it serves as yet another convenient way to productively use a fraction of Rio's scores of unemployed labor.

The cobradores are extrememly helpful to a foreigner or new arrival to Rio, but on the whole I think they may be over-valued, since most Rio denizens seem to know where they're headed.