ROAD PRICING IN COLOMBIAN CITIES?

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 31 dic. 2011 9:47 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 17 mar. 2012 8:08 ]

Carlos A. González G.


Dinero Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia. 9th December 2008


Opinion Article


Original title: '¿Peaje urbano en ciudades colombianas?''


In moments when the future of the mobility of the three main Colombian cities, since the implementation of several public transport systems (metro, light rail transit and systems based on high performance buses with segregated lane such as “TransMilenio”, “Metroplús” and “MIO”), is being discussed, with more passion than lucidity; all we needed was that the complicated political debate incorporated a new element to the mobility scene: the road pricing(1) in urban areas; disconcerting in this way the already confused citizen.

The current lack of criterion of both, politicians and technicians, is such that in this moment in the city of Bogotá they do not know whether to implement first a metro line, a regional train or to extend the “TransMilenio” network (and much less how the first two systems would be financed since the town hall has promised not to increase the local taxes). On the other hand, in the city of Medellin they have decided, with nearly twenty years of delay, to implement the “Metroplús”, after realizing the nonsense of having implemented a metro/light rail transit (a strange hybrid which flies over the heads of all of the citizens in the centre of the city) which has to compete with thousands of scrap buses which operate without any regulation. Finally, in the city of Cali they are still trying to finish the implementation of the “MIO” after an embarrassing process of construction full of delays and over costs and of a polemic tender process of the collecting system, both the result of improvisation.

In this, not to say more, picturesque scene, the frivolity with which some of both “gurus” and “non-specialists” of the field of mobility, have tried to introduce the urban road pricing as a tool of transport demand regulation oriented to the reduction of the congestion in Colombian cities causes curiosity, and even more when they naively or maliciously argue that this tool has been successful in some of the main European cities.

In general terms, the road pricing in urban areas, commonly called congestion charge, the theoretical base of which was formulated in the fifties and its first implementation was in the seventies in Singapore; is an extra monetary charge (which is commonly invested in public transport) charged to the drivers of private vehicles for the negatives effects, more congestion and pollution amongst others, that they generate for the rest of the citizens. The success of this kind of restrictive measures that penalize the generalized use of the private vehicle, commonly is supported with the simultaneous implementation of a determined plan to favour the public transport. Thus, the congestion charge is not an “innovation” and much less the “panacea” to resolve all the mobility problems in the city, but it is one element more of an integrated transport policy oriented towards a more sustainable mobility.

The case of the implementation of the congestion charge in the city centre of London in 2003 has been one of the most notorious in recent years, since it has caused a significant reduction of the congestion (about 15%) in the regulated area, and this is the recurrent example for those who argue the need to implement this regulation tool in the main Colombian cities. Nevertheless, they often avoid to clarify, because of ignorance or because of their own interest, that the city of London has an extended and efficient network of metro and regional train since many years ago, which is not only able to absorb the users which decide to leave the car at home as response to the implementation of the congestion charge, but that it indeed is a competitive alternative of public transport in both aspects, price and travel time. This offer of public transport was strengthened with a great improvement plan of the bus service in the city centre (besides routes for pedestrians and cyclists) simultaneously to the implementation of the congestion charge.

Therefore, one of the in-depth public debates to implement a congestion charge in the city, is to establish if this city already has an efficient public transport system which acts as a competitive alternative to the use of the private vehicle, then we can advance in the implementation of one of the most effective tools nowadays in the regulation of the congestion. But before beginning this debate, in Colombia we still have to cover a long way which requires an active participation of the government by means of its local administrations in the planning, management and regulation of the public transport which includes the business re-organization of this sector which is still based on the informality and the miserable “war of the cent”(2); a resizing of the offer of the public transport, which in some cities implies a reduction of the number of buses of about 30%; a renovation of the current fleet of vehicles (buses); a re-distribution and optimization of the bus routes; the implementation of integrated fares and a strong investment in public transport systems both in railway systems and in other ones of greater cost-efficiency relation based on high performance buses called  “Bus Rapid Transit” –BRT- in the technical literature.

As citizens it is crucial to assume a critical attitude towards this kind of questions in order to confront, on the one hand, the Manichean political discourse with which some local administrations try to distract our attention from the really important discussions with the aim of hiding the current chaos with which the building of the future of the mobility in our cities is being carried out and their irresponsible management of the public funds, and on the other hand, to confront the merchants of technology that wrongly continue thinking that we remain here caught in the time when we were giving gold in exchange for mirrors and cheap imitation jewellery.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled '¿Peaje urbano en ciudades colombianas?'. The opinions expressed in this article are solely responsibility of the author and they do not compromise the point of view of any related institution. (1) 'Road pricing' is the payment of a charge to use the private vehicle in some roads or areas of the city. (2) 'War of the cent' originally known in Spanish as "Guerra del Centavo".

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