Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Second Thoughts on the Subway

So, today I needed to go to north Bogotá to get some paperwork done - which is becoming its own epic saga.

I might have ridden my bike, but it looked like rain, and arriving soaked probably wouldn't help with the local bureaucrats. So, I went down to catch the bus.

But Seventh Ave. was shut, probably due to some protest march or a parade. It's happens a lot.

My days for getting the visa renewed are running out, so I caught in a cab. But, with Seventh closed and Tenth Ave. choked by endless construction work, the taxi was soon trapped in gridlock. Trancones in all directions.

"Why don't you take Transmilenio?" the driver suggested. But unfortunately TM doesn't go near my destination.

So, I got out and started walking. Now, I was making progess. I discovered that farther north Seventh Ave. was open, and I got into a bus. But I soon realized that I'd never arrive in time. So, out of the bus and into another cab. I made it with about five minutes to spare.

And it wasn't even raining.

I'll spare you the infuriating details of my battle with bureaucrats, who seem to always have yet another document to demand of me. The paperwork here has not reached the Kafkian levels of Bolivia - yet. But they seem to be trying.

In the afternoon, the traffic was again horrendous. The regular buses barely inched along. My patience for gridlock nonexistent, I decided to walk to Transmilenio, which at least does advance. If you manage to squeeze into one of the buses, that is.

The TM stations were packed, and so were the buses. One bus to my neighborhood after another after another passed by, all of them stuffed so full of people that I didn't even try to squeeze in.

Finally, I caught a bus which would take me a little too far south, from where I'd have to take a bus back and transfer again. But when I got to that station, I discovered that its other side was under repair - meaning that no buses stopped there. Tercer Milenio Park, at night isn't the best neighborhood for a gringo to go wandering. And it was raining. So, I got onto another bus and went further sound, then doubled back from there.

The lesson from this epic journey across town is that maybe Bogotá does need a subway. After all, this city is just going to keep on growing and growing. Subway don't eliminate traffic jams, as Caracas, Medellin and London have demonstrated. Still, no matter how jammed up the roads are, subways do keep moving.

However, even under the most optimistic possibilities, a subway won't happen here for another five years or so. City leaders need to take immediate and decisive steps to reduce congestion, particularly by phasing out the old junky buses and imposing a London-style congestion fee.


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