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.

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