By Deepa Raghunathan
According to Antanas Mockus, former mayor of Bogota, “The worst thing for a Latin man is to find himself raising another man’s child,” which explains the political culture that requires new plans under each mayor, president and politician. With the government and development banks able to provide funds to begin infrastructure improvements in growing cities, politics are the stumbling block to network expansion.
In contrast to its rival-city Medellin, the home of Colombia’s only metro line, Bogota is much more chaotic and crowded with a population of around eight million. The Transmilenio has max ridership at 45,000 users per hour, far below what is necessary for a growing city in a developing country. Medellin’s metro is used by approximately 500,000 users daily, compared to 1.7 million Transmilenio users in Bogota. Though its metro is used far less, it has the potential to serve many more users with increased headways and longer trains. Due to its completely separated nature, it is faster regardless of road traffic.
As shown in the Transmilenio case, Bogota’s BRT line was unveiled as a great success, but it was only an initial step in what needs to be a grander transportation networking scheme that allows greater and more efficient integration of the growing city. For Bogota, BRT is a temporary solution.
As an intern at the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development, I was briefed on the five key areas the President saw as growth “locomotives,” including infrastructure. I had numerous meetings with the Office of the Presidency, Ministry of Transportation and academics at the Universidad de los Andes discussing the current state of transportation infrastructure and how to move forward, and quickly realized that there were numerous plans but no political will to execute.
For my daily commute to work, down Avenida Septima, I initially walked thirty minutes to the government office. I soon realized the small buses were a much more convenient method of transportation – I did not need to walk extra blocks to Caracas to catch the Transmilenio, I was picked up and dropped off exactly where I needed to be, and if one was too full, I could simply wait five seconds for the next. Transportation alternatives should exist, but the needs of the growing city should not be held hostage by the temporary needs of a few.
Asking everyone I came across their thoughts on the BRT that I had moved to Colombia to learn about, I was sad that the overwhelming response was, “It’s bad because it’s too crowded.” Riding once during rush hour, I felt more packed than I had in any NYC subway, most likely because the standing room due to seating arrangements and the start-stop nature of traffic.
There is no question that the Transmilenio has served Bogota well, but unless a more extensive system is put into place it will fall prey to over-use and under-maintenance. With government support and foresight, a metro line will serve the city well and support the overcrowded existing infrastructure.