METRO, LIES AND VIDEO

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