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How can we enhance competition in bus passenger urban transport?

Shomik Mehndiratta's picture
Photo: EMBARQ Brasil/Flickr

Também disponível em português.

While bus services are often planned and coordinated by public authorities, many cities delegate day-to-day operations to private companies under a concession contract. Local government agencies usually set fares and routes; private operators, on the other hand, are responsible for hiring drivers, running services, maintaining the bus fleet, etc. Within this general framework, the specific terms and scope of the contract vary widely depending on the local context.

Bus concessions are multimillion-dollar contracts that directly affect the lives of countless passengers every day. When done right, they can foster vigorous competition between bidders, improve services, lower costs, and generate a consistent cash flow. However, too often the concessions do not deliver on their promise and there is a perception across much of Latin America that authorities have been unable to manage these processes to maximize public benefits.

As several Latin American cities are getting ready to renew their bus concessions—including major urban centers like Bogotá, Santiago de Chile, and São Paulo—now is a good time to look back on what has worked, what has not, and think about ways to improve these arrangements going forward.

Próxima Parada: El Centro Comercial

Daniel Pulido's picture
Also available in: English
Sigue a los autores en Twitter: @danpulido y @IrenePortabales

Estación de Metro de Madrid esponsorizada
Muchos de los sistemas de metro del mundo no consiguen cubrir sus costos de operación con los ingresos tarifarios, mucho menos sus costos de capital. Una comparativa internacional llevada a cabo por las asociaciones de metros CoMET y Nova indica que, en promedio, los ingresos tarifarios de un sistema de metro cubren el 75% de sus costes de operación, mientras que los ingresos comerciales cubren aproximadamente un 15%, lo que supone un déficit del 10%. De igual modo, hemos hecho un cálculo de “números gordos” basado en los estados financieros de diversas empresas de metro de América Latina, corroborando que en promedio éstas presentaron un déficit en operación del 10% en el 2012, el cual asciende al 30% si se incluyen los costes de capital. Por supuesto existen ejemplos de metros que sí cubren sus gastos operacionales como son Santiago de Chile o Hong-Kong, pero otros como México DF necesitan subvención de la mitad de sus gastos de operación. Esta brecha de fondeo es un gran impedimento para mantener la calidad de los servicios y para ampliarlos para poder responder adecuadamente a las crecientes necesidades de desplazamiento.

Lamentablemente, el desfinanciamiento de los sistemas de transporte urbano es un problema generalizado, difícil de remediar con presupuestos públicos sobrecargados y/o soluciones inmediatas que aunque efectivas en teoría son difíciles de implementar en la práctica: el aumento de tarifas, por ejemplo, es una medida políticamente difícil y además genera mayor presión sobre los pobres, quienes más usan el transporte público; cobrar una tarifa que realmente cubra los costes socioeconómicos del uso del vehículo particular (tales como cargos por congestión) como instrumento de financiación del transporte público es también una medida impopular y difícil de implementar.

Dada esta situación, los operadores de transporte están continuamente buscando nuevas formas de recaudar fuentes adicionales de ingresos y así disminuir el déficit de financiación,  en muchos casos a través de asociaciones con el sector privado. A pesar de que muchos de los ejemplos se concentran en países desarrollados, algunos metros en América Latina y en otras regiones en vías de desarrollo están buscando aumentar sus ingresos no tarifarios:

Mind the (funding) gap, next stop: Making some extra money

Daniel Pulido's picture
Also available in: Español
Follow the authors on Twitter: @danpulido and @IrenePortabales

A branded metro station in Madrid
Most metro systems around the world are unable to cover their operating costs with fare box revenues, let alone fund capital expenditures. According to data from international benchmarking programs CoMET and Nova, tariff revenues cover an average 75% of operating costs, while other commercial revenues provide about 15%, resulting in an operating deficit of 10%. Similarly, a back of the envelope exercise that we conducted for Latin American metro companies showed that these had an average operating deficit of 10% in 2012. When including capital expenditures, this deficit grew to 30%. There are of course examples of metro systems that do recoup their operating costs, such as Santiago de Chile and Hong Kong, but others like the Mexico City Metro only cover half of their operating expenses with fare revenues. We should all mind this funding gap as it is a significant impediment to maintaining service quality and addressing growing urban mobility needs.

Unfortunately, the underfunding of transit systems can become chronic as public budgets are under growing pressure and the most direct solutions for increasing revenues are hard to implement: increasing fares, for instance, has proved to be politically difficult and disproportionately affects the poor, who use public transport the most; and charging a price that fully covers the social cost of private vehicle usage (i.e., congestion charges) as a way to fund transit is also politically sensitive.

In that context, transit operators are increasingly looking at new ways to tap additional sources of commercial revenue and make up for funding shortfalls, often through agreements with the private sector. Although most examples are concentrated in developed countries, some metro systems in Latin America and the developing world are looking at ways to increase non-tariff revenues:

The 10-Cent GPS

Holly Krambeck's picture

We know that technology is not a panacea, that gadgetry and software are not always the right solutions for our transport problems. But how do we know – really know -- when technology is truly the wrong way to go – when, say, using an old-fashioned compass is genuinely better than a GPS?

Thanks to blogger Sebastiao Ferreira, writing for MIT’s CoLab Radio, I have learned about an intriguing phenomenon in Lima, where entrepreneur data collectors, named dateros, stand with clipboards along frequented informal microbus routes, collecting data on headways, passenger counts, and vehicle occupancy levels. The microbus drivers pay dateros about 10-cents per instant update, and they use the information to adjust their driving speed.  For example, if there is a full bus only a minute ahead of the driver’s vehicle, the driver will slow down, hoping to collect more passengers further down the route. In informal transit systems, where drivers’ incomes are directly tied to passenger counts, paying dateros is a good investment (Photo from MIT CoLab Radio).

If you think about it, use of dateros could be more efficient than traditional schedule or GPS-based dispatch, because the headways are dynamically and continuously updated to optimize the number of passengers transported at any given time of day.  According to Jeff Warren (a DIY cartography pioneer), the dateros have been praised as the “natural database, an ‘informal bank’ of transportation optimization data.”

Does this little-known practice call into question our traditional prescription for high-tech solutions to bus dispatch?