URBAN MOBILITY: A BITTERSWEET DECADE

publicado a la‎(s)‎ 2 ene. 2012 1:06 por Carlos A. Gonzalez G.   [ actualizado el 5 feb. 2012 16:02 ]
Carlos A. González G
.

'Dinero' Magazine
Digital Edition, Opinion Section
Colombia. 3rd January 2011


Opinion article

Original title: 'Movilidad urbana: una década agridulce'

A decade has passed since the first Bus Rapid Transit system of the country, Transmilenio, was inaugurated with the hope of becoming a great relief for the mobility problems of Bogotá. Even if for the Capital District and for some other main cities that followed its steps, the results have been positive regarding the improvement of the public transport, the increasing traffic chaos which continues dominating our cities generates a strange bittersweet taste.

The law known as “The Metro Law”, formally, the Law 310 of 1996 of the Colombian Congress, opened an interesting opportunity for several cities to implement new massive transport systems, which would be financed jointly with the National Government, in order to finally leave behind the aberrant scenario perpetuated for decades by the traditional public transport system. The philosophy behind this law was clear: to discourage the generalized use of the private vehicle, to achieve a more efficient use of the road space and to promote the use of the optimized public transport. So, several initiatives to implement Bus Rapid Transit systems (BRT) did not take long to come to the fore. Some of the most relevant are the Transmilenio system of Bogotá, The Megabus of Pereira, The MIO of Cali, The Metrolinea of Bucaramanga, The Transmetro of Barranquilla, Metroplús of Medellin and Transcaribe of Cartagena, among others.

At that time, an optimist would have predicted a great improvement of the mobility in our cities, while a realist connoisseur of the Colombian context, would have been able to predict, in great detail, the scenario which finally materialized during these years. The poor planning, the inefficiency and the lack of transparency of the local governments; the harmful improvisation of the entities in charge of the management and the operation of the massive transport systems; and the disastrous pressure and the fraudulent activity of the, colloquially known, “mafia” of the traditional public transport; ended up blocking projects of such an importance for the urban mobility. At present, while the attack against the BRT systems which are operating is focalized towards its financial sustainability and its expansion projects, the attack against others which are still in the process of being implemented, such as the ones of Medellín and Cartagena, aims at keeping them in the limbo as long as possible.

However, supposing that all the BRT systems had been successfully developed, would the urban mobility be significantly better today than ten years ago? Probably not. This would be the most prudent answer to a question of such a magnitude if the answer had to be based on an isolated action of the BRT system. And, so, since there is not a single technical answer to the mobility problems, it can also not be hoped for that a partial action should be able to provide integral solutions. In the same way, the long-awaited panacea that will make the congestion disappear from our chaotic cities does not exist among the available transports systems and mobility management measures.

Without a doubt, not to undertake these massive transport projects would have been and would be a huge mistake, but what is needed to significantly mitigate the mobility problems, which have seriously worsened with the accelerated growth of the private vehicle, are Integral Strategies and not isolated measures and “star” projects. This implies a wide range of measures which in an integrated way are directed towards the rationalization of the use of the private vehicle, the efficient use of the road infrastructure, the transport intermodality, and the promotion of the public transport and of the non mechanized modes.

Even if some people, with a questionable criterion, state that everything has already been tried out and that there is nothing one can do to save our “hopeless” cities, the truth is that they could not be more mistaken since the reality is that what has been done up to the moment is very little. Furthermore, there has been an absence of a technical ability to design and to implement effective strategies that combine the adequate measures and, of course, the political will which continues being elusive. So, the challenge to improve the mobility in our cities requires a rigorous planning, a serious structuring of the projects, an intelligent use of the transport demand management measures, a greater integration of transport planning and of urban-regional planning, an institutional strengthening and the consolidation of a single authority of metropolitan transport, among many other actions which, at the moment, are distinctly absent.

Otherwise, while we continue believing in the empty speech of the traditional politicians, in the “white elephants” announced as development monuments, in the magic wands that produce money from empty hats, in the ‘ultramodern’ motorways which disintegrate the congestion on the spot and forever, and in the metros which only work well on paper; we will be inevitably destined to another decade of urban immobility, however, even more bitter and less sweet than the previous one.

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This is a translation of the original version in Spanish entitled 'Movilidad urbana: una década agridulce'. 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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