Wednesday, September 29, 2010

End of the Line for for Bogotá's Traffic Congestion?

An end in sight for traffic jams?

Luis Willumsen, a transit expert from London made the front page of El Tiempo with the daring and shocking proposal that autos should actually pay for the congestion, delays and other damaging impacts they make on the city, rather than be subsidized for doing so, as is the case in most cities.

Such a charge (or $20/liter gasoline) seems to be the only realistic method for controlling the city's ever-worsening congestion. Bogotá's 'Pico y Placa' law, which prohibits vehicles from being driven two days each week depending on the last digit on their license plates, has obviously failed to control congestion. Instead, it's encouraged the wealthy to buy second cars in order to be able to drive every day.

Luis Willumsen
Charging drivers is politically unpopular, but has worked in cities including London, Singapore and Stockholm, where congestion charges have reduced pollution and traffic jams and sped traffic flows. And, significantly, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who imposed the charge, was reelected and his conservative succesor has continued the policy.

It's important to observe that a congestion charge only monetizes - and probably reduces - costs which motorists are paying already, in time lost waiting in traffic jams and in fuel burnt during hours of idling - not to mention the medical costs of all of that stress.

In Bogotá's favor, only a small, wealthy minority travel in private cars here, so most Bogotans would not be affected. And, altho the rich have lots of political power, Mayor Samuel Moreno's lefist political party's base are the poor. What's more, Bogotá has a history of being willing to impose policies which discomfit private car owners, such as the Pico y Placa law, bus-only traffic lanes and even the Sunday/holiday Ciclovia, when major avenues are closed to car traffic.

Worried Samuel better do something.
And Moreno has almost nothing to lose. He's already very unpopular due to delays and corruption allegations surrounding the expansion of the Transmilenio express bus system. And he appears to want to be remembered as 'the mayor who revolutionized Bogotá transit. He's already shown his willingness to antagonize car owners by expanding the Pico y Placa's hours. And, City Hall must certainly have known Willumsen's perspectives when it invited him here. Perhaps Moreno will decide, realistically, that a hail Mary policy move like this one is his best hope to achieve a big success and be remembered positively.

Makes sense to me.

Blog written by Mike Ceaser of Bogota Bike Tours

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