Railway apartheid

We bit the financial bullet and took the train back from the Machu Picchu area. It’s billed as a special experience and it was. First because the scenery is stunning. Secondly because it tasted a little like railway apartheid.

Tickets for foreigners cost significantly more than for locals. We’re talking ten times more plus. This approach is pretty common for major sites in South America. We’re not generally uncomfortable with this astute use of price discrimination:

  • If the pricing was even it’d be super cheap to foreigners, but prohibitively expensive to more locals
  • For government run sites it seems fair for the government to provide a subsidy to its citizens, but not others

But the system with Peru Rail was slightly different. We didn’t just pay different prices, we sat in different rail cars with different standards of service. Fiona was, as ever, delighted when this manifested itself as free hot beverages but it still felt a bit irksome.

For one thing, we like traveling with locals better than in a tourist bubble. They’re great to talk to. For another, we don’t like the assumption that we need a different kind of service than they do. If there is a choice of service, we like to be able to take the cheaper one. Finally, there was just something strange feeling about watching all the locals line up for one carriage and everyone else for another.

To be fair to Peru Rail, offering different service classes probably makes their differentiated pricing easier to justify to tourists who complain. And it seems a little illogical to imply, as we’ve done in this post, that we don’t mind paying more than locals, but we mind paying more to get more. But all the same we really would have preferred to pay a little less more to join the locals with their slightly lesser leg room and no free coffee.

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