Follow the authors on Twitter: @jpvelez78, @canonleonardo and @ScorciaH
A few weeks ago, a video entitled “Why doesn’t TransMilenio work?” created a huge buzz among the residents of Bogota. The graphically impeccable video, produced by local Colombian firm Magic Markers, proposes solutions for addressing the systematic overcrowding problem faced by the city’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system known as ‘TransMilenio’. It is based on research conducted in 2012 by a university professor, Guillermo Ramirez, and his students. The video has been watched on YouTube over 700,000 times and has been discussed by important national media outlets.
As urban transport experts and Bogotanos interested to see TransMilenio improved, we wrote a blog post in Spanish breaking down the video between the points with which we agree and the points with which we disagree, and circulated it in social media to further promote the debate. We are now sharing that blog post in English as we believe it offers some interesting discussion points about the challenges of high capacity BRT operations that are relevant in a broader context.
Estos “bonos de proyectos” están principalmente dirigidos a inversionistas institucionales —incluidos fondos de pensiones— y han generado un gran interés entre banqueros de inversión, firmas de abogados e inversionistas. Todo este bombo plantea una serie de preguntas: ¿Están los "bonos de proyectos" realmente a la altura de las expectativas? ¿Pueden los Gobiernos depender de los ahorros pensionales para financiar proyectos (¡un nuevo significado para la sigla APP!)? ¿Qué necesitamos hacer para convertir a los fondos de pensiones en una fuente de financiamiento significativa y así terminar con el déficit de inversión en el sector de infraestructura?
These “Project Bonds” mostly target institutional investors - including pension funds, and have generated a great deal of interest among investment bankers, lawyers and investors. All this hype raises a number of questions: Are these “Project Bonds” really living up to expectations? Can governments really rely on Pensioners Paying for Projects (a newfound meaning for PPPs!)? What do we need to do to turn these instruments into a significant source of financing and close the infrastructure investment gap?
While we have not been significantly involved with such services thus far, a recently appointed mobility secretary in a big Latin American city has asked us for support on developing an approach to the shared taxi industry, as part of a "Smart Mobility" strategy for the city. In that context, we wanted to start a conversation on optimal strategies for cities to be able to welcome and foster such innovations, while still capitalizing on the opportunity to create value for its citizens.
Photo: Sam Kittner / Capital Bikeshare
Recently, I was invited to join a panel on the sharing economy moderated by Prof. Susan Shaheen at UC Berkeley, focusing more specifically on shared mobility.
The panel acknowledged that shared mobility is already transforming the mobility landscape globally, but could go a lot further in increasing the sustainability of urban mobility systems. The panel identified a number of key research gaps that we need to pay close attention to if we want to create a policy environment that is conducive to mobility innovations. Three that I want to highlight are:
- Supporting open data and open-source ecosystems is critical considering the tremendous potential of open-source software and data-sharing for improving transport planning, facilitating management and providing a better experience for transport users (for more detail, please see my previous blog on how the transport sector in Mexico is being transformed by open data)
- Looking into shared-economy solutions for those at the bottom of the pyramid – solutions that don’t require credit cards and smartphones as prerequisites (see this blog on the bike-share system in Buenos Aires for a good example)
- The world of driverless cars is coming – which, depending on how policy responds to it, could spell really good or really bad news for the environment: if such technology is used primarily in shared mobility scenarios, it could greatly reduce the environmental cost of motorized transport; on the other hand, the possibility of “empty trips” with zero-occupancy cars could exacerbate the worst elements of automobility (see Robin Chase’s blog in The Atlantic Cities for a great discussion on this). That is why it is critical to create a policy environment that appropriately prices the ‘bads’ of congestion, accidents and emissions while steering the world of driverless cars towards sharing and resource conservation.
Follow the authors on Twitter: @TweetingCamila and @shomik_raj
A commuter in Bogotá, Colombia
This situation points to one of the toughest challenges faced by public transport systems: how to reconcile financial sustainability and social inclusion? On the one hand, if fares do not cover operational costs, systems need subsidies to survive, which can pose serious financial and political risks. In some cases, transport systems operating with inadequate financial resources may experience system deterioration, safety problems and service curtailment. On the other hand, if fares are set to reflect the real price of transport services so that operators can recoup their costs without subsidies, then the poor are often priced out. This is exactly the problem that Bogotá is currently struggling with, despite its well-deserved reputation for innovation and excellence in public transport: fares of its state-of-the-art Transmilenio Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system are pegged at cost-recovery levels that may price out many of the city’s poorest. Recent studies show that the lowest income households in Bogotá (socioeconomic strata 1, 2, 3 according to the local classification) are already devoting 20-30% of their total income to transportation, spending more than US$2 daily. The situation may be even worse when Bogota’s city-wide public transit reform (the Integrated Public Transport System or SITP) is fully implemented, as bus drivers, with the adoption of smart cards, may no longer be able to offer unofficial discounts to passengers at their discretion, a common practice in the traditional system.
Construction of the Quito Metro
A few years ago I proudly put a sticker on my bicycle that claimed one should ‘bike local’ in order to ‘think global.’ These days, it seems that the car is unavoidable in the majority of growing cities and that instead of biking local one should avoid commuting at all.