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Mobility in Bogotá

The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá: In Bogotá, public transport is a highly politicized planning issue that can get a mayor elected, overthrown or immortalized.

Bogotá is known worldwide for its bus rapid transit (BRT) system, TransMilenio. Initiated by the former mayor Enrique Peñalosa, it was implemented in December 2000 with a planning horizon of 7-8 years covering 3 phases of construction. The system is a fleet of red busses with a capacity of up to 270 passengers with separate bus lanes and elevated stations allowing fast, safe and efficient transportation. TransMilenio moves 45,000 passengers per hour per direction. Green busses known as ‘feeders’ operate without dedicated lanes and bring commuters to and from different locations that the main routes do not reach.

Transmilenio

Planning and politics
Despite the original planning horizon, the third phase of the TransMilenio construction is currently taking place. The delay is partly due to the visions of shifting mayors; resistance from the parallel network of informal busses and an ongoing debate whether TransMilenio has reached its capacity and should be supplemented or even replaced by other modes of transportation.

The current city administration lead by Mayor Gustavo Petro is an ardent advocate of intermodality (multiple modes of transportation) and the creation of a metro and tramlines to supplement the TransMilenio system and the chaotic minibus network called ‘colectivos’. According to the World Bank, TransMilenio transports 30% of commuters in Bogotá while the colectivos moves 70%. This allocation is unfortunate in terms of passenger safety and integrated planning as the thousands of independently operated and uncoordinated colectivos have no formal bus stops and fight for passengers often resulting in speed offence, accidents and overcrowded busses.

Colectivos

Metro vs. bus
In a city of more than 8 million inhabitants, the debate on how to move people around the city by public transportation often results in either-or discussions on whether to support the creation of a new metro or strengthen the existing BRT system.  The reality, however, is that the attempts to create a multi-model strategy for Bogotá is needed as TransMilenio is soon to reach its capacity, air pollution and emissions are getting worse, public space is taken up by ‘on ground’ infrastructure and city districts are cut over by bus lanes and flyovers.

Transmilenio

Critics argue that the attempt to implement a metro in Bogotá is a personal defining issue for the current mayor who wants to leave his mark on the city. Others comment that the vision of intermodality and a metro is very poorly communicated and that TransMilenio is a much better investment as it is both cheaper and flexible. You can move on ground routes and busses but you cannot move a costly underground metro.

Resistance from the colectivos
Due to rising GDP per capita, there are 350,000 new cars a year in Bogotá. This means that roads are getting more crowded, emissions are getting higher and private cars and colectivos move with an average speed of 25 km/hour in the city. Most people agree that part of the solution is to improve public transport. The question is how?

Colectivos

As the TransMilenio system is still expanding, the city administration tries to move operators and drivers of the colectivos towards a TransMilenio-inspired system. The idea is to turn 70% of the bus fleet into TransMilenio standards with a higher road safety and electronic ticketing. A smart card system is currently used in TransMilenio while the colectivos use payment by cash. However, the attempt meets strong resistance from the operators of the colectivos who have a lot of money involved and are suspicious of ‘mimicking’ the TransMilenio business model (i.e. operating on TransMilenio-like conditions).

Intermodality needed
Whether a metro is going to be a reality in Bogotá or not, a change towards intermodal transport planning is needed. Corridors with the highest needs for public transportation have to be served by sufficient and physically integrated solutions incl. bicycle paths, bicycle parking facilities and sidewalks and people have to be able to use the same type of payment in the various public transport systems.

The mobility discussions previously monopolized by engineers need more input from various professionals working with urban planning and mobility. As a city known for innovative solutions to mobility challenges – such as TransMilenio, Ciclorutas and plate restrictions – it is essential to keep in mind that people, urban life quality and health should be at the center of the mobility discussions in Bogotá. The same goes for other cities.

Father-and-sun-enjoying-the-Virrey-park

Bicycle paths passing through Bogotá

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>> The IFHP Travel Squad reports from Bogotá