Bogota’s Future

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,”[1] 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.[2] 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.

 


[1] Kimmelman, Michael. “Past Its Golden Moment, Bogotá Clings to Hope.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 08 July 2012. Web. 10 Feb. 2013

[2] Hutchinson, Alex. “TransMilenio: The Good, the Bus and the Ugly.” TheCityFix. N.p., n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2013.

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One thought on “Bogota’s Future

  1. By Nour el Hoda Farrag

    I agree with you. My view on the Bogota case was that an MRT system was the obvious solution. Initially several factors came to mind: i) Bogota is a developing country, with a population that was growing every year and therefore needed a long-term public transport solution; ii) passenger car usage was growing, and sharing roads with private vehicles to provide dedicated lanes for BRT was not conducive to alleviating traffic problems; iii) with BRT, the government and such a strategic public service were left at the mercy of private operators and bus owners under the old system. This subjected public transportation to riots and under- maintenance; and iv) capacity constraints emanating with the BRT system. I thought that a metro line is more sustainable and deserves to be top priority, even against a resource-constraint budget.

    The only argument that I was not able to counter was how a country’s low population density can significantly undermine the usage and therefore effectiveness of a new MRT system, and the ability of government/private entities to monetize the project. I still wonder, however, if a country is too big for BRT, but too spread-out for MRT, what would be the most efficient and sustainable mean of public transportation? Additionally, if a medium-term BRT system is implemented because it is better-suited to the needs of a country at a given stage, wouldn’t the passage of time complicate future implementation and effectiveness of an MRT system? If an MRT system is inevitable and it’s only a matter of time before it becomes essential, wouldn’t sooner implementation save more money than later implementation? Another takeaway for me was the role politics played in making infrastructure decisions, for better or for worse!

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