The official name is “taxi colectivo urbano” (or “urban collective taxi”), but you’ll hear them widely referred to just as “colectivos”. These little black cars, with special plates and placards on the roof, are spotted all over the towns of Chile, even some quite small towns, and can be easily mistaken for a taxi by poor, unsuspecting tourists.
They are, in fact, a form of public transport. They have a designated route that is listed on the placard, and they wait until they have filled the car before they start out, dropping people off along the way, sometimes deviating slightly from the route to drop people at their front door.
Now, I can’t say exactly that I “love” the colectivos themselves. Many are in pretty bad shape (a seatbelt is a luxury item), and I often get stuck in the middle of the back seat, between two synthetically-clad, fat people on a hot day. Not pleasant.
But I do love the concept of the colectivo. Many people in Chile don’t have the means to own a car, and live in areas that are not easily accessible by “normal” means of public transport, like the metro or the bus. The colectivo provides a relatively quick and direct way of getting where you need to go, at a fraction of the cost.
I use them to get to some of my English classes that are remotely located in a business district on the outskirts of Santiago. They take me through places where I would otherwise not dare to venture on my own, not even on a public bus. My fare is around $1,500 pesos ($3), for what would usually be a $15,000 peso taxi fare. I see the poorer parts of Santiago, parts that many Chileans don’t often see themselves, and it’s a reminder that I am actually in South America.
The drivers don’t usually say much, but a few of them have gotten used to me, and I’m easily recognisable, so they often already know where I’m going when I turn up at the colectivo stand. The guy above even wanted to make sure he was in the photo!
They can be particularly useful in small country towns, where other public transport is scarce and people need even more help to get around. I used them to get to wineries in the Colchagua Valley where it would otherwise have resulted in an expensive tour or taxi fare.
They are unique to anything we have in Australia, and provide a valuable service to the locals, which is why they have their place on the list of things I love about living in Chile.
We caught a colectivo to a little village in the foothills of the Andes from the last metro stop (I think it was Plaza de Puente Alto) and I agree with you – very cool way to get around and makes a lot of places in the outer parts of Santiago a lot more accessible and nothing remotely like it in Australia. I also found myself sandwiched in between 2 very healthy Chileans in the back seat – it was definitely a unique experience!
It’s definitely an experience, and one way to see the real Chile.