I want to ride my bicycle — comparing bike to other modes of transit for the daily commute in Buenos Aires City

In this article, we will try to take a look at how long it takes for people to commute to downtown using different modes of transit in Buenos Aires City on a typical weekday morning.

For the origins of commute we used census blocks from 2010. For the destination we used an arbitrary downtown location: Tte. Gral. Juan Domingo Perón 455 (-34.605537,-58.373022).

Arbitrary downtown location for Buenos Aires City

We considered 3 modes of transit:

  • Biking
  • Public transit
  • Driving

We came with a time of travel for each mode using Google Distance Matrix or Buenos Aires City Government API (for biking, as Google doesn't provide that information for Buenos Aires City). We show the result of those queries in the following maps:

Map 1 - Driving commute trip time in minutes for Buenos Aires City

Source: Google API

As we can see in the map, neighborhoods in the northwest of the city have the longest driving commutes (over 1 hour). Evidently, the areas closer to downtown or to highway ramps have lower commute time (less than 1 hour).

Some time in this driving commute time is due to traffic. Google Distance Matrix API provides this estimation for time spent in traffic. We don’t have an estimation on how long it takes to find a parking spot, or how much this costs. We don’t have an estimation for cost while driving, as a fuel consumption varies accordingly to many variables (type of car, fuel type, fuel cost, etc.)

Map 2 - Time spent in traffic as a % of total driving commute trip time for Buenos Aires City

Source: Google API

Inbound avenues seem to be the more affected areas by traffic (San Juan Av., Rivadavia Av., Santa Fe Av. and Libertador Av). But this traffic effect is spanned throughout a short space. The exception is Corrientes Av., where the effect in traffic seems to be more spread from West to East.

Now we can see how long would it take to commute using public transit. Buses are also affected by traffic, but we don’t have an estimate for it. Although we could say that traffic affects both driving and buses in a similar way. So areas affected by transit will be the same for both. This is not the case for Rapid Bus Transit (BRT or Metrobus) because they used their own network, and also subways, railroads, and light rail is not affected by transit.

Map 3 - Commute trip time in minutes for Buenos Aires City by public transit

Source Google API

We see how the central area of Buenos Aires City (neighborhoods like Chacarita, Villa Crespo, Almagro, Balvanera, etc.), that has a severe traffic problem, gets lower commute times thanks to the subway. But this is only valid for areas close to the subway stations.

The advantage of public transit is that there is no cost of parking in downtown and there is also no waiting time to find a parking spot. But, there is a waiting time in the station while the bus, train or subway arrives. We don’t have an estimation on how long people wait for the public transit as a percentage of their commute trip time.

On the other, biking is a cheap and almost traffic-free mode of transit. One of the main disadvantages is that bikes travel slower than subways, cars, buses and trains. Nevertheless, this doesn't necessarily means that the commute time is higher. As bikes also use their own network (Buenos Aires has an extended network of protected bike-lanes), the effect of traffic could make biking commute’s time actually lower.

Map 4- Biking commute trip time as a percentage of driving commute time in Buenos Aires City

Source: Google API and Buenos Aires City Government API

Its remarkable how for most of the city, biking is a more efficient time for the daily commute to downtown (in time and cost) in comparison to cars. The extended network of protected bike-lanes makes this possible. Using quantiles, we can see that for the 80% of census blocks, driving takes the same or more time than biking as a way to commute. For 60% of census blocks it takes less than 84% of the driving time to bike to downtown.

In conclusion, which is the fastest mode of transit for the daily commute in Buenos Aires City?

Map 5- Fastest mode of transit in Buenos Aires City by census block, BRT and bike-lanes network

As we can see, for the areas of influence of subway, train or light rail, this will always be the fastest mode of transit. This is to be expected. But for Buenos Aires City, subways are overcrowded during commute. That is the main disadvantage. What arises as something somewhat unexpected, is biking appearing as the fastest way to commute, even for relatively far way areas. The green zone in the central area, matches the area heavily affected by traffic. Also, what we could call the “midtown area” of Buenos Aires (Corrientes and Rivadavia Av between Pueyrredon and 9 de Julio Av), also biking is the best choice. Finally, for the southest neighbourhoods (La Boca, Barracas, Parque Patricios, etc.) biking is faster than taking the bus (with some exceptions. One is where there is the Hipolito Yrigoyen train station (colored in blue).