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Efficient public transport starts with strong institutions

Sofía Guerrero Gámez's picture
Also available in: Español
Photo: Max Souffriau/Flickr
Over 10 million people now live in the Lima Metropolitan Area, equivalent to about 1/3 of Peru’s total population. As the number of residents and private vehicles continues to rise, getting around this sprawling metropolis is proving increasingly difficult.
 
In fact, Lima’s commuters waste an average 20 days a year due to congestion. Traffic also takes a serious toll on quality of life and the environment. Most importantly, the yearly rate of road fatalities has reached 14 per 100,000 people across Peru, with most instances concentrated in urban areas.
 
The city’s transport woes have been exacerbated by the lack of efficient public transport, which drastically undermines access to jobs and essential services like health or education—especially for the poor—and eats away more than 1.5% of the local GDP.
 
So how can we tackle this and keep Lima moving? As mentioned in one of our previous articles, cities that are striving to build adequate and reliable public transport systems must consider multiple factors simultaneously.  
 
Today, let’s take a closer look at the role of institutions—perhaps one of the most critical pieces of the urban transport puzzle. In a city as vast and complex as Lima, where several transport modes coexist (metro, Bus Rapid Transit, buses), there is a strong case for an overarching agency that would coordinate planning, operations, and fare collection across all major types of transit services.
 
This model has been implemented successfully in places like Madrid, London, Paris, or Vancouver, and has gone a long way in facilitating the development of a cohesive public transport network for these cities. In a first for Latin America, it has been announced that the Lima and Callao will soon have their own Urban Transport Authority (Autoridad de Transporte Urbano de Lima y Callao in Spanish, or ATU). The future authority will be attached to the Peruvian Ministry of Transport and Communication, and will have with the capacity to coordinate between the relevant authorities and ministries: specifically, it will include representatives from the Ministry of Economy and Finance, the Ministry of Housing, and from all the municipalities covered by the authority.
 
The creation of the ATU provides a momentous opportunity to improve the governance of the urban transport sector, build stronger institutions, and to start planting the seeds for a high-quality transport system.
The government is now working to determine how exactly the ATU will be structured, how it will operate on a day-to-day basis, and what kind of support it will receive from other institutions. This design phase is obviously crucial, and finding the right model will be key in making sure the authority can address the three major challenges facing public transport in Lima: i) transport sustainability, including accessibility and inclusion (taking into account the specific transport needs of women, children, the elderly, persons with disability, and all other segments of the population); ii) physical, operational and financial integration, which could substantially reduce transport expenses for residents connecting between multiple lines; and iii) the governance of the entire system.
 
A few years ago, the World Bank drew on the experience of cities around the world to highlight important lessons learned and best practices for setting up effective transport agencies. Today, the findings of this study are more useful than ever, and will provide Peruvian officials with some invaluable insights as they shape the ATU :
 
  1. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Lima and Callao should create a model that is appropriate for the political and administrative context of the city and country.

  2. Transport institutions need time in order to develop and evolve. Some trial and error is normal before achieving the ideal configuration.  

  3. The ATU will need appropriate financial resources, and should have the power to manage them independently. The issue of budget allocation and management is decisive in the success of urban transport authorities.

  4. It is common to encounter resistance and opposition at first, making broad political support all the more essential.

  5. Events such as elections, protests, political movements, macroeconomic fluctuations, etc. can have a significant impact on institutional changes. To ensure that long-term reforms can withstand this, it is very important to involve civil society through outreach and communication programs. Luckily, the current context of Lima and Callao is largely positive.
Precedents from other cities have shown that the establishment of a transport authority does not always go smoothly, and teething pains are all but inevitable. With that in mind, we must continue to move forward and mobilize support for the ATU. Ultimately, this initiative is about more than institutional reform: if we get it right, the new agency has the potential to become a transformative force for Lima—one that will bring lasting economic growth, improved quality of life, and opportunity for all.