How a Subway Fare Increase Kicked Off Chile's Largest Protest

For many residents, Santiago's subway system and its fare hikes became a nexus for anger over deeper inequities across Chilean society.

2 minute read

November 1, 2019, 12:00 PM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc

Chile Metro

benjalecaros / Shutterstock

A fare hike of 3.75 percent might not sound like much, but it was enough to spark the massive protests that have engulfed Chile for nearly two weeks. According to reporting by Juan Pablo Garnham and Nicolás Alonso, Santiago's Metro system illuminated, for many, a landscape of rampant inequality that the government had failed to address.

Although 19 Metro stations have suffered arson attacks, many poorer residents appreciate the subway's connective capacity. "Its clean trains and stations full of art have been a metaphor for Chile as the 'good student' of Latin America," Garnham and Alonso write. At the same time, Santiago's Metro "is already one of the most expensive in Latin America, and had seen an increase in fares of almost 100 percent in 12 years." 

"People didn't attack their schools, their medical centers, the daycare centers—all public institutions—but the subway, where they perceived that there was profit," said geographer Juan Correa, who works at a Santiago housing nonprofit.

Metro's main benefit—its ability to connect different parts of the city—may have also served to hammer home just how unequal Santiago is across neighborhoods. "People are able to access better jobs and services, but oftentimes also face long travel times in extremely crowded cars to get there. And what they see when reaching their destination is really different from the neighborhoods, schools, and streets where they live."

Chilean president Sebastián Piñera has since reversed the subway hike and implemented other policy shifts, but protestors continue to demand more radical change

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