'Talking about Mobility and Urbanism' is one of our social initiatives, which is based on opinion-forming articles written by Carlos A. Gonzalez G, director of M&U Movilidad y Urbanismo, and published in several prestigious printed media in Colombia. This initiative is part of our commitment to a real Social and Environmental Responsibility in our firm. In particular, this series of articles aims to contribute to a better judgment and enhance citizen participation in these topics. Similarly, other academic articles and technical reports are included in this section for the interest of a more specialized audience.

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publicado a la‎(s)‎ 2 ene. 2012 0:38 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:03 ]

Carlos A. González G

'El País' Newspaper
Print Edition, Entorno Section, Page A3
Cali-Colombia. 14th December 2010

Opinon article

Original title: 'Apuesta por la Autopista Bicenteneraio'

I bet you a million dollars that the future ‘Bicentenario’ Motorway building costs will be the double of the expected, and that a couple of years after having opened its travel time will be the triple. Moreover, since the real demand will not match the forecasted demand, all of us citizens will subsidize by paying our taxes, those who use the motorway while the concessionaire fattens its pockets.

The proposal of the Mayoralty of Cali to build a ‘modern’ motorway that goes from North to South in 15 minutes has excited those who dream to see Cali, formerly ‘The branch of heaven’ (‘La sucursal del cielo’), turned into the ‘Los Angeles City’ of the Southern Cone. Since the technical, urban, landscape and environmental arguments against the project do not seem to have any importance, I will deal with the criticism from the only issue left to discuss: money.

The main benefits of the ‘Bicentenario’ Motorway are based on the fact that it would be implemented under a concession scheme with a toll directly paid by the users. But it is not as easy as to say that ‘the city will enjoy the benefits of a large transportation infrastructure without having to pay any construction or maintenance cost’. This statement that seems to be heaven for Cali’s citizens can be turn into hell if some crucial aspects are not discussed: Firstly, the guarantee of a minimum income that the public sector promises the concessionaire to compensate it in the case of an insufficient collection (if the real demand is lower than the forecasted demand). And, secondly, the responsibility for any cost overrun in the construction process.

Well structured projects, detailed designs and an as reliable as possible demand forecasting are essential. In our country there are not few examples in which a private company (concessionaire) with the complicity of the public sector have artificially reduced the construction budget and overestimated the traffic demand. Then, when the income by tolls was not enough, using clauses conveniently included in the concession contract, the concessionaire sued the local Government in order to be compensated for the lack of money. Despite such evidence, in Cali there are still those who think that the most important thing are the public works, that planning is a cumbersome chapter which may be omitted, and that a ‘mental traffic jam’ cannot stop the city`s development.

The Mayoralty of Cali, who has insisted on building the motorway at any cost, has rectified rightly saying that they will not yield to the intentions of the private companies regarding them receiving a minimum income guarantee by toll collection. The Mayor said that the final decision about the project should be based on the fact that the concessionaire must be able to cover entirely the cost through the toll collection in order ‘not to let Cali’s finances seized’. Thus, suddenly, the doubtful feasibility studies that the Mayor defended four months ago, are now found inadequate, something which we all knew from the beginning.

To be honest, the argument of the defense of the Treasury to reverse a project like this does not seem very believable. Fortunately for the city, it rather seems that the investors found their money at a high risk if they did not have the generous guarantees which they were used to, and they decided to ask the local administration for a better structured project in order to carry out a more reliable investment evaluation. Otherwise, they would have been delighted to carry out the project in full knowledge of leaving a ‘White elephant’ for the city.

The recent episode could be a light in the darkness in planning of the city of Cali. It would set a precedent in the ability of reflection of the local Government: It is better to rectify on time than having regrets later.


This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Apuesta por la Autopista Bicentenario'. 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.

+ Link to this article on the website of El Pais Newspaper


publicado a la‎(s)‎ 2 ene. 2012 0:30 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:04 ]

Carlos A. González G.

'El Tiempo' Newspaper
Digital Edition, Opinon Section
Colombia, 9th September 2010

Opinion article

Original title: 'Gestionando la movilidad'

The recent interest of the Municipality of Cali in identifying several measures to reduce the chaotic traffic congestion in the city is remarkable. But, it is crucial that such initiatives, which have arisen from a “Shower of ideas” in a round-table discussion attended by the local Government and some societal stakeholders, are now well designed and rigorously evaluated, with the support of sufficient, updated and reliable data and information.

The Vehicle Restriction or the spatial and temporal restriction of car use in urban environments (called ‘Pico y placa’ in Colombia) is one of many strategies of Transport Demand Management (TDM), which aims to influence the travelers’ behavior, in order to promote a more sustainable mobility. It is, therefore, the generation of some scenarios or specific conditions that encourages travelers to make certain decisions about how and when some part of their trips should be done in order to promote a sustainable mobility pattern based on a more rational use of the private vehicle and greater participation of both optimized public transport and non-mechanized transport modes (cycling and pedestrian).

The recent proposal to change the current ‘Pico y placa’ strategy of the city of Cali, emerged in the round-table discussion organized by the newspaper ‘El País’ and the program ‘Cali, Cómo Vamos’ the past 18th August, requires to give answers at least to the following questions: Is it better to extend the restriction to full working day or continue as it is now, only during the rush-hour, but increasing the number of days of restriction for each car? Should it affect only automobiles or also taxis given the evident oversupply of the latter? Is the current public transport system able to cover the new demand created by the extension of the restriction or is it necessary to undertake actions to improve it? Should motorcycles also be included in the restriction in order to avoid a harmful increase of their demand? Until we have consistent answers to questions like these, we will continue in the field of divinatory powers.

Whether we like it or not, or whether we think it is fair or unfair, given the rapid growth of the number of vehicles, both cars and motorcycles, it is urgent to undertake actions to achieve a more rational use of private vehicles in the city. In the same way, it is essential to regulate the anarchic oversupply of both traditional public transport and taxis and, of course, to strongly promote the implementation and improvement of Bus Rapid Transit systems such as the ‘MIO’ system(1) of Cali which has not yet reached the expected results. All these actions on long journeys have to be supplemented with measures to promote non-motorized mobility (pedestrian and cycling) for short journeys.

Then, in first instance the goal to achieve is that the negative externalities per passenger, such as space and fuel consumption, pollution and accidents among others, should be the lowest possible. And this is accomplished, on the one hand, by minimizing the number of private vehicles using the road network and by maximizing their average occupancy (which currently shows low values of about 1,2 passengers per car) and, on the other hand, by increasing the participation of both optimized public transport and non motorized transport modes in the total of trips made. Both are key aspects to enjoy a better mobility in the city.

Another matter of great debate and concern is how are these measures to be implemented, knowing that at the moment, the Municipality of Cali does not have: (a) A technical report of its Urban Mobility Plan which was enacted two years ago (Municipal Decree 0615 of November 10th 2008), (b) Results from a wide survey of mobility (Origin-Destination), and (c) An integrated simulation model of urban mobility which includes all the transport modes of the city. This lack of data, information, plans and tools, which is critical for a well structured and effective decision-making in mobility, leaves us at the mercy of interpretations and speculations, or, even worse, exposed to the deliberate ‘trial and error’ which ends in despair for the citizens.

It is crucial to carry out several actions immediately. On the one hand, a greater investment in the development of Cali’s Mobility Plan. Its precarious annual budget is barely able to overcome the cost of a foot-bridge. On the other hand, to strengthen the small technical team of mobility planning in the Municipal Department of Planning, which in spite of its daunting task, could not yet bring out the necessary technical report of the Urban Mobility Plan to be used as a support for decision-making. This is obvious in such precarious conditions of both budget and number of mobility experts.

The enjoyment of a better urban mobility and, if you will, of a sustainable mobility, is not free and, therefore, it requires that all of us citizens give way in some aspects and contribute in others. But this willingness will only be possible if the Local Administration is able to build consensus on the desired city, and to design and implement effective measures and coherent projects. At the moment, the ideas fall from the sky, projects take precedence over the plans, building is first and planning latter, and so, the desired city does not seem to be just around the corner.


This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Gestionando la movilidad'. 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) MIO 'Masivo Integrado de Occidente' is the Bus Rapid Transit system of the city of Cali, which was implemented in 2009.

+ Link to this article on the website of El Tiempo Newspaper


publicado a la‎(s)‎ 2 ene. 2012 0:09 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:04 ]

Carlos A. González G.

"El Tiempo" Newspaper
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia, 9th August 2010

Opinion article

Original title: 'Metro, metiras y video'

“No university, no matter how prestigious, can tell me where the first line of Bogotá’s Metro should be implemented, since this project has been claimed for by the population” said strongly Samuel Moreno, Mayor of Bogotá, a couple of months ago in a forum. This is just one sign more of the worrying way in which one of the most important projects for the capital city of Colombia is being managed. Project for which the main question is not whether it has to be implement, since it is evident that a huge city like this with such mobility chaos needs a Metro system, but where, how and when it must be implemented.

Even if the Mayor exasperates because of the fierce criticism about the features of the proposed first Metro line, he is obliged to pay attention and to reply appropriately all the questions and suggestions formulated by the civil society organizations and the national institutions. It is not acceptable that the Mayor reacts with such an unusual fit of anger to deal with the public inquiry. Even more worrying is the fact that he is proclaiming a sort of unlimited power in the decision-making, a power supposedly conferred by the thousands of people who voted for him (as he himself reminded in the Mobility Forum organized by the program ‘Bogotá, cómo vamos’). Although the citizens elected him as a Mayor to govern the city, this action does not imply at all, renouncing to a deliberative government. And much less does it give a politician, who is so keen to be in the limelight, the authority to categorically discredit the technical objections and suggestions made by the National Department of Planning (DNP) and the two groups of experts from the National University of Colombia and the University of Andes, which had technical support from prestigious international universities.

The technical objections and suggestions made by the DNP and the experts to the study called ‘Conceptual design of Bogotá’s Metro network, and the operational design, legal and financial structuring of its first line, in the context of an Integrated Public Transport System’ carried out by the Spanish Consortium SENER-TMB (with a cost of about 16 900 million Colombian Pesos COP) are not at all trivial issues since they could have serious consequences on the project’s viability. On the one hand, the experts firmly state that the demand forecasting model used not only has some methodological inconsistencies but it is insufficient to do a reliable forecast since the potential influence of other transport modes and systems are not taken into account. On the other hand, there are great doubts regarding the appropriateness of the proposed route for the first Metro line, and furthermore it is necessary to carry out a more detailed study on operational costs, fares and potential subsidies. All these aspects imply a need to make significant modifications to the proposed design, before carrying out a detailed project of engineering, but even more important is that the modified proposal should face several instances of approval.

In response to the experts’ comments, Bogotá’s Government, more specifically Mayor Samuel Moreno, launches a harsh attack on the national institutions and universities involved in the project’s evaluation. This politician, determined to be remembered as ‘The Mayor who built the Metro’ –even if this implies several negative effects on the city as a consequence of the improvised current planning and future management of the project-, uses the cynical argument that the final decision about the Metro project should not be based on technical but on political matters. As if this were not enough, he uses an even more fallacious argument about the national experts’ inability to make well structured technical comments in this kind of project, in comparison with the ‘unquestionable’ professional capacity of the Consortium in charge of the system design and the ‘irrefutable’ results of its technical report. Thus, the Mayor suggests, implicitly, that the defense of the city’s social welfare could be better promoted by international companies of consulting and engineering than by national scholars and local civil society organizations. This is said, as though we had not had enough experience in the past decades to prove the contrary. We all know about the terrible irregularities and conflict of interests that occurred –with the complicity of the politicians of that time- during the design and construction process of Medellin’s Metro system. And this is only one of several examples in which the interests of the contractor companies are commonly far away from the promotion of the city’s social welfare, which obviously is expected to be promoted by the Local Government.

The lie here lies not only on the fact that a political leader makes a Machiavellian attempt to convince the citizens about their supposed obligation to comply and not to question the decisions made by the Mayor elected by them, but it also lies on the tendentious and common belief that the Metro, alone, will solve all the mobility problems in Bogotá. This latter argument, by the way, would not withstand the slightest technical analysis, since there are many cities which even having Metro and other public transport systems continue facing serious bottlenecks due to the absence of complementary measures aimed at an effective rationalization of the use of private vehicles.

These days, a new act of mass hypnotism is hatched by Bogotá’s mayoralty, stating that the Metro project now has a free hand and that it is the current Mayor who will celebrate the start of the public works next year, since the National Council of Economical and Social Policy (CONPES) approved the framework document “Integrated Mobility for the Capital Region of Bogotá-Cundinamarca” (Document Conpes nº 3677 of July 19th 2010), which sets out the commitments that the National Government will assume to finance the several projects, including the first Metro line. The truth is that this document does not at all give green light to the development of the project, but in reality, it fortunately reaffirms the importance of the criticisms made by both expert groups from the universities and the National Department of Planning (DNP), to the point that the Government funding has been conditioned to the rectification of the mistakes in the proposed design and also on the approval of a final project. This detail has been omitted or minimized in all official communications from the Mayoralty, not because of it being part of the small print of the document, since certainly is present from beginning to end, but due to the harmful culture of occultism very common in some of our local administrations more interested in dirty tricks and public makeup than in a suitable structuring of projects.

All this happens while the ordinary citizen is spellbound by the idyllic institutional video that Bogotá’s Mayoralty uses to promote the future city’s Metro, video where, of course, the Mayor is the star, paying homage to himself. Fortunately, an ever-increasing handful of people, because of experience or intuition, begin to ask themselves: If in the past decades disastrous projects have looked excellent on paper; How large are the lies that the government will manage to make up with a video going to be?


This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Metro, mentiras y video'. 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) COP 16 900 million = EUR 5,4 million = USD 7,0 million (Source: OANDA, November 2008)

+ Link to this article on the website of El Tiempo Newspaper


publicado a la‎(s)‎ 2 ene. 2012 0:00 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:05 ]

Carlos A. González G

'El Tiempo' Newspaper
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia, March 5th 2010

Opinion article

Original title: 'Por la defensa del transporte público'

The present chaos the public transport has reached in the Colombian cities, as a logical consequence of various decades of anarchy in this sector, has a solution, in spite of what many may desire at the bottom of their hearts. Even though the solution lies in the hands of the local transport authority, that has to assume its forgotten functions of regulation and control and has to start being more effective with the planning tasks; it is also important for the citizens to break their psychological barriers in order to assume the irrefutable truth that the public transport in our cities, not only is able to, but has to improve.

The so called “war of the cent” has to disappear for two reasons. First, because there are no words to describe the situation of the traditional public transport bus drivers, who have working days of up to fourteen hours daily and who have to fight amongst each other in the middle of the road to attract users, because their salary depends on the number of passengers transported. Second and mainly, because the benefit of a few transport businessmen and bus owners, has been detrimental for the millions of citizens who deserve and pay for a quality service.

The current modernization of the public transport sector is not only fundamental, but also urgent. On the one hand, an evil business structure, such as the one behind the phenomenon of “the war of the cent”, is intolerable in our days: the drivers are hired without assuring the minimum requirements demanded by law, condemning this job to informality. This is, to work without rights – which, no doubt, benefits companies and owners- and without responsibilities – which encourages the well know lack of discipline of the drivers on the road, which results in a bad service for the users-. On the other hand, it is important to notice, that the main victims of this structure have been the whole of the citizens for too many years, captives of a service reluctant to any kind of regulation and of dreadful operative characteristics (obsolete fleet, aggressive driving, excess of supply, little reliability, etc). It is this system which is responsible for the high mortality rates, for the violation of the traffic rules, for the traffic congestion and for the environmental pollution, amongst many other negative aspects.

The formulation and implementation of public transport systems based on high performance buses (known in the scientific literature as Bus Rapid Transit- BRT-), such as the MIO in Cali city, Transmilenio in Bogota city and Metroplus in Medellin city, amongst other main Colombian cities, has represented, on the one hand, a radical transformation of the idea that the citizens had of the public transport and an improvement of the urban space of various areas of the city; on the other hand, it has attacked the heart of the traditional public transport service business: the business structure. This is so, in spite of the evident problems in the planning and execution of the construction of these BRT systems, as well as the improvisation at the operative level due to hurried “political inaugurations”.

This new model, even if it still has much to improve, has represented an important evolution regarding the chaotic traditional model. Thus, a management entity, attached to the local administration, has been created to assume the planning, the regulation and the control of the public transport system operation and distribution of the collection. Based on this outline, the businessmen of the transport sector who are in conditions to achieve the established quality standards, are invited to participate as operators of the system. This is the kind of improvement wanted by implementing Integrated Systems of Public Transport (ISPT) in various Colombian cities, which aim for an integral management model of all of the public transport available in the city (which includes the traditional one that is still operating), applying better quality standards, frequency and rationality in the transport supply, in terms of an optimisation of the system.

A transformation of these characteristics is obviously not of the liking of the businessmen, who, for years, have benefited from the growing precariousness of the public transport system, from the complicity of the local government employees which allowed for their pretended “auto-regulation” (determination of routes, frequencies, type of vehicles and services, etc), from the will of certain politicians who live from their votes and that therefore defend the interests of the trade, from the demand of readjustments of the price without the obligation of fulfilling the minimum quality and performance standards, from the exploitation of the workers and the systematic evasion form whatsoever responsibility (the payment of fines because of traffic violations and contributions to the funds for fleet renewal), amongst other well known vices.

The various tricks of all kinds undertaken by these businessmen against the different initiatives of the local administration to improve the provision of the public transport service, account for this. Examples of these tricks have happened recently in the cities of Bogota and Cali, such as agreeing to programmes which they know they will not carry out (reorganization of routes, decrease of the supply, fleet renewal, etc), insinuating a supposed social debt that the society should have with these businessmen because of so many years of service, organizing strikes where they completely refuse to provide transport service –giving an incentive to some and intimidating others- paralysing large areas of the city and affecting hundreds of thousands of citizens and the financial activity.

The citizens are becoming more and more aware of the importance of the design and implementation of public policies that improve the collective welfare. Thus, they are promoting a progressive strengthening of the local institutions that will assume its promotion and defence before the pressure of the groups that represent private interests. But, since the change that we long for in our cities, will not materialize itself if we do not make some changes in the status quo which has us trapped in the past, it is necessary that, as form now, when the common citizens, which are the majority of us, demand: “For the defence of the public transport!”, we have to specify “But not the anarchic one, the optimised one!”.


This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Por la defensa del transporte público'. 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.

+ Link to this article on the website of El Tiempo Newspaper

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