Monday, November 29, 2010

Green or Grey Bogotá?

Bogotá finished sixth for environmental soundness out of 14 Latin American cities ranked by the Economist Magazine's Intelligence Unit for Siemens Corp.  (The results in full are available here.)

Whenever I read these rankings, I'm struck not by how 'good' Bogotá is, but by how lousy other cities must be doing for Bogotá to rank relatively high.

Curitiba, Brazil: Efficient transit, green spaces and clean air.
The Brazilian cities, led by Curitiba (which invented bus rapid transit), ranked highest.

Bogotá did pretty well in areas such as energy use, green space, land use and transport - but to a great extent because of its relative poverty and lack of development. With the country's armed conflict having been pushed back, the economy growing, car ownership increasing and planned freeways and land use policies likely to feed sprawl, I expect Bogotá's environmental performance to decline in the coming years.

A view from the hills overlooking Bogotá
Certainly, Bogotá has implemented some important, positive policies in recent years, particularly by expanding and improving public spaces and extending its express bus system. (The report applauds Bogotá for the length of its mass transit system per square mile, highlighting the system's cost advantage compared to a subway.)  But the city did poorly on indices such as air quality and wastewater treatment. Any of us who live here and have seen the smog-belching vehicles or taken a whiff of the Bogotá River could have told you this. In my five years living here, I have never seen anybody measure a vehicle's emissions. And the invasion by cheap and highly-polluting Chinese cars and trucks is likely to negate any air quality improvements from the planned implementation of an Integrated Public Transit System and the retirement of thousands of older buses    In contrast, Medellin did well on air quality and water sanitation.

Bogotá officials could accomplish a lot by reading this report and adopting the good ideas from other cities. Some are no-brainers, such as instituting random pollution checks (with recorded, automated devices to minimize corruption) on vehicles. (The report erroneously compliments Bogotá for equipping its Transmilenio buses to operate on natural gas. Unfortunately - and incomprehensibly - the city has not done this, although many taxis have been converted to natural gas.)

Belching Bogotá bus - isn't anybody watching?
The report applauds Santiago, Chile for implementing a traffic congesting fee, although it's is only a half-meaure. Such a fee could do wonders for Bogotá's traffic jams, and would be a huge improvement over the failed Pico y Placa policy. 

Bogotá might also restart its bicycling-promotion policies, forgotten by recent mayoral administrations.

Another good move would be creating a strict land-use plan and sticking with it through mayoral administrations. Curitiba, Brazil has moved poor residents from informal housing into new, better-built housing with access to transit and city services. Bogotá could do the same with some of the neighborhoods covering its Eastern Hills. Many of these neighborhoods are located on steep, unstable land and suffer high crime rates and other problems. By offering residents incentives to move into solider, more compact housing, the city could improve its waste-water treatment rates and recover land for green spaces and forest.

Homes built, most likely illegaly, on the edge of a ravine in a Bogotá hillside neighborhood. The city generally refuses to hook up such homes to sanitary services in order to not create incentives for more illegal building. But that only creates a terrible sewage problem. 
Again and again, the report warns about the destructive effects of the private car, and I can't help quoting:

"Urban sprawl has also put limits on policy options. As detailed below and in the city profiles, vehicle numbers are having negative effects not just on transportation but on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

"Add in everything: More cars means more traffic jams, less time with family; more and wider roads means less green space. 

"Many Latin American cities have successfully set up extensive public transport systems. However, they have not performed as well on the more sensitive challenge of getting people out of their cars. But those efforts are necessary to address the region’s deeply entrenched culture of individual transportation. 

"Policies to reduce the number of cars on the road are rare. Just two cities have park and ride schemes. None currently has carpooling lanes. Only Santiago, rated well above average in this category, has a congestion charge. ‘Comprehensive public transport networks are only part of the solution to reducing reliance on cars. Index figures indicate that the number of vehicles per person in a city goes up with income per capita, independent of the quality or size of the public transport system."

And later:

"As the city profiles show, however, the big problem for many cities is vehicle traffic. Those with strong policies on car and truck emissions testing or the promotion of public transport tend to do better. Curitiba is ranked well above average, and its BRT system is often cited as a reason for its better air quality."

All of which makes me ask: Why hasn't Bogotá implemented basic, proven, no-brainer anti-congestion measures like car-pool lanes, ride-sharing programs, park-and-ride lots and, best of all, a congestion charge?

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

Rain, Rain....and Rain Every Day

This has been a record rain year in Bogotá and across much of Colombia. Already, the rains have killed more than a hundred people, flooded many regions and driven more than a million people out of their homes.

The rains follow 2009's drought. The pattern is caused by the El Niño/La Niña phenomenon, and causes suffering both coming and going.

While this year's rains have been torrential, deforestation has increased erosion and landslides. 

Every well-dressed dog this rainy season.
A rainy Cesar Rincon in the bullfighting stadium, with the Torre Colpatria behind.
 Scooping out the patio. 
Seventh Ave. 
Despite the rains, we continue doing Bike Tours
Rolling on the Plaza del Chorro

Taking refuge
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Bogotá: One-Way Trip to Becoming Los Angeles, Calif.?

A Los Angeles, Ca. freeway - the future for Bogotá?
Bogotá Mayor Samuel Moreno just announced a plan to criss-cross the city with 'mega-freeways' to reduce traffic congestion and feed the booming private car ownership.

Haven't they noticed that freeways increase pollution, divide cities, create caves where muggers hang out - and in the end only postpone the day of reckoning with congestion?

Calle 13, which is slated to be freewayed, is lined by bike shops and other small businesses. 
Bogotá city planners ought to look north toward Los Angeles, which turned itself into a symbol for car addiction by paving over and double-decking great swaths of its landscape.

The result? Today, Los Angeles suffers the worst traffic congestion in the U.S. and is focusing on expanding its mass transit network.

Why doesn't Bogotá look into the future, skip the expense and trauma of building freeways, and adopt the only policies which will actually produce sustainable control of traffic: manage demand, by charging motorists for the congestion they cause.

The freeway strategy might be pointless, anyway. If oil prices continue rising in the long term, traffic will inevitably decline, leaving the expensive new freeways vacant.

Related: Petro's Brave Transit Plan

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Ice Skating on Plaza Bolivar

Normally the territory of photographers, tourists and pigeons, pigeons and more pigeons, during December 2010, Bogotá's Plaza Bolivar is is cruised by ice skaters sliding back and forth and often falling over. Not many Bogotá children have ice skating experience.

It's one of many signs that Christmas is coming. Since October, parks have been strung with lights and decorations. And Plaza Bolivár has a big Christmas tree, between the Simón Bolívar statue and Congress. Even though Colombia's 1991 Constitution ended its status as a Catholic country, no Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu religious symbols have been sighted on public parks or plazas. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Cuba's Defender on Bogotá's Ciclovia!

This man is a frequent sight on Bogotá's Sunday/holiday Ciclovia, denouncing the United States and defending Cuba's revolution. 

Cuba proclaims victory....No to the U.S. bases in Latin America. 

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Which way to Caracas?

My, how some things change. Colombia has likely extradited more of its citizens to the US for trial on narcotrafficking than has any other country in the world. And Colombia rarely let the fact that many of those men had committed much more henious crimes against humanity in their own country, against their own people, to stand in the way of using them as chips to maintain good relations with the country which financed its war effort, as well as to maintain good standing in the War on Drugs, (despite overwhelming evidence of the futility of it all).

Then, a few months ago, Colombia's new Pres. Juan Manuel Santos and Venezuela's perpetual Pres. Hugo Chavez kissed, made up and declared themselves best friends. Mr. Chavez had evidently forgotten that so recently he had called Colombia's leaders fascists, suspended trade and sent troops to the border. For his part, Mr. Santos had apparently forgotten the overwhelming evidence that Venezuela has supported the guerrillas who are trying to overthrow Colombia's democratic government.

Political opportunism has never been so much fun to watch.

The startling result of all of this? Walid Makled, Venezuelan narcotrafficking king in a Colombian prison requested in extradition by the United States is apparently about to be Venezuela.

Both nations want to get their hands on Makled for much more than his alleged drug offenses. Makled claims to have the scoop on Venezuelan government officials' colllusion with the cocaine trade. That's why U.S. officials want to interrogate him and Venezuelan officials want him quiet and filed away somewhere, perhaps then to be shipped back home to his native Middle East, where there'll be no risk of him spilling any beans.

The practical implications of all this are zero. For a long time it's been apparent that Venezuela is really corrupt and that some high officials likely collaborate with narcotraffickers. Makled's testimony would only permit more U.S. Republicans to rant against Chavez, just as they've been doing for years anyway, to reenergize those Cuban emigre voters who've become resigned to the Castros' staying in power until God makes his final call and display dangerous signals of paying attention to other issues, like health care and the economy.

U.S. courts might even indict more Venezuela government officials of narcotrafficking and other charges.

But they won't do what would really count - stop financing Mr. Chavez by boycotting Venezuelan oil. And Chavez will never shut the oil tap and quit filling the gas tank of that northern demonic empire. For his own part, Santos will regret having friended Chavez the next time that Chavez finds it useful to stir up nationalism by denouncing the empire's puppet next door. When that happens, I'm afraid Colombia won't find much gratitude for Makled's gift wrapping and deliver.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Nicas, Ticas and Colombia

Costa Rica calls them police, but they sure look like soldiers.
So, let's get this straight. Nicaragua sends troops to what just about everybody else seems to agree is Costa Rican territory, justifying its actions on Google Maps - and long-suffering Colombia somehow gets tangled up in the mess.

Costa Rica appears by all measures to be the good guy in this ridiculous border dispute. Costa Rica, whose people are known as ticas, had accepted an international tribunal's ruling giving Nicaragua, whose people are known as nicas, sovereignety over the San Juan River, which forms their border. However, not satisfied, Nicaragua pushed on onto the Costa Rican side, damaging the environment there by piling up dredging waste.

Just about all of the region's countries, with the exception of Venezuela, for whom anything generating political booty is righteous, have sided with Costa Rica. But that so far hasn't provided much help on the ground for little Costa Rica, which doesn't even have a military.

Both nations' official maps show the riverbank as belonging to Costa Rica. So Nicaragua backed its claims using Google Maps as its official reference. But Google officials quickly declared that their maps are not intended to be geopolitical references, and were wrong in this case, anyway.

Exactly where does Nicaragua end and Costa Rica begin?
Who's the demonic puppetmaster heading this international conspiracy against poor, victimized Nicaragua? Colombia, of course. Coincidentally, Nicaragua also claims several Carribean islands over which Colombia has long held autonomy.

But Nicaragua's leftist Pres. Carlos Ortega, no matter how desperate he may be to whip up nationalism at home, must also care about international opinion, and he must be looking for a graceful way to declare victory and back out of this mess he's made.

By Mike Ceaser of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Bogotá's Bullfighting Museum

Chamber of honors or chamber of horrors?

Grotesque? Traditional? Cruelty? Not many human endeavors are as controversial and multifaceted as bullfighting, and you'll find all those diferent aspects in the Museum of Bullfighting in the Plaza de Torros Santamaria.

There are the heads of distinguished bulls, honored (and mutilated) for having put up an exciting fight. And then the picadores, shafts tipped with evil-looking iron blades with which the bulls are stabbed to start the bleeding and prevent them from lifting their heads and more easily goring the bullfighter. There are the bullfighters, most of them forgotten young men, and a few of tauromaquia's idols.

The head of a bull honored for putting up a great fight. Its ears were cut off and given to the bullfighter as an honor.
For its critics, bullfighting consists of tormenting and torturing an animal before finally killing it. For its supporters, bullfighting is an art full of skill and subtlety, requiring great courage and willpower. Certainly, it is filled with tradition - everything from the colors of the 'suit of lights' to the order in which the bullfighters enter the plaza follows centuries of tradition. Most likely, bullfightings is all of those things.

Bullfighting appears to be on the decline. The Plaza Santamaria doesn't attract the crowds it used to, and Colombia's high court recently ruled that bullfighting, because it is a tradition, could continue, but that government entities should not subsidize it. And Spain's Cataluña province recently prohibited the sport there.
Colombian bullfighters
A local character - he fought bulls in his firefighter's uniform.
Manolete, one of history's most famed bullfighters.
A picador - its bladed end is hidden. 
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogota Bike Tours

Saturday, November 13, 2010

La Perseverancia's Chicha Festival!

Every year, around this time, Bogotá's troubled hillside neighborhood La Perseverancia becomes a center of attention, music and popular culture - it's their annual Chicha Festival!

Chicha is a traditional Colombian drink made from fermented corn. (In other countries they make chicha out of other fruits and vegetables.) And La Perseverancia is Bogotá's traditional chicha-brewing neighborhood.

Today's bike tour included chicha tasting in La Perseverancia!

Dance to make it rain chicha instead of water!
Pour that chicha!

Much more than chicha was for sale at the festival. Corn on the cob is called mazorca in Colombia.

The La Perseverancia neighborhood, popularly known as La Perse, was founded to house the employees of the Bavaria Brewery, which was located directly downhill, across the street from what is today the National Museum. (The old brewery building has now been converted into shops and offices.)

The brewery's founder, Leo Siegfried Kopp, was a German-Jewish immigrant who helped his workers bring drinking water and other luxuries to their neighborhood. Today, Kopp's tomb in Bogotá's Central Cemetery has become a place of pilgrimage for people who call Kopp a saint and believe that he can do them favors.

Chicha was first made the Muisca indigenous people, who also made chicha from yucca, pineapple and other crops. Today, across Latin America people make chicha from different fruits and vegetables. In some rural regions, the women start off the fermentation process by chewing the corn kernels and then spitting them out.

See more pics on flickr.

Much of the chicha is finally drunk in La Candelaria's Callejon del Embudo, right around the corner from Bogotá Bike Tours.

Lots of chicha is drunk in La Candelaria's pasaje del embudo. 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mono Jojoy Lives on, in La Nacho

An Idealist?

In the National University's Plaza del Che someone's put up a mural celebrating Mono Jojoy, or Víctor Julio Suárez Rojas, the second-in-commando of the FARC guerrillas, who was killed by a military bombardment several weeks ago. 

'The murder's impotence is dropped by the planes...
¡But bombs can do nothing where there's plenty of heart!'
-- Bolivarian Youth Movement

The National University, called La Nacho, is known for its leftist politics and colorful graffiti. Che Guevara's portrait is on the opposite wall of the plaza, which is known as La Plaza del Che. Beside Mono Jojoy is a portrait of Camilo Torres, the university's idealistic chaplain, who joined the ELN guerrillas in 1965 and died in his first battle. Accoding to the story, the pacifist Torres refused to pick up a gun. In those days, it was still possible to believe that the guerrillas offered a better solution for Colombia. 

Mono Jojoy, in contrast, was a monster. He allegedly planned bombings which killed dozens of civilians and ordered kidnappings and extortion. Besides, he led a terrorist organization which plants land mines, recruits children, has driven millions of Colombians from their homes and has earned condemnations from many human rights organizations. His portrait has no place in the university, and much less alongside Torres. 

In Colombia there's a saying: 'If you're under 30 and not a communist, then you don't have a heart. If you're over 30 and still a communist, then you don't have a brain.'

Alongside Camilo Torres
Postscript: After being stored for five months in Bogotá while officials tried to figure out what to do with him, Jojoy's remains were handed over to his half brother and buried in a South Bogotá cemetery called El Apageo. Already, a few people have come and left flowers on the tomb. The half brother had wanted to bury Jojoy in their hometown of Cabrera, but authorities said they feared that the FARC would come try to take away the body

Flowers on Jojoy's tomb (Photo: El Tiempo)
Jojoy's tomb is monitored by cameras and security guards, who shoo away visitors. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Room For One More? How About 450,000?

Room for one more?
At the recent Salon del Automovil hopeful car vendors projected that with more free trade agreements and lower taxes Colombians could purchase 450,000 cars per year - almost double the 245,000 sold in 2010. For them, that's profits. But for the country, it a disaster of traffic jams and pollution.

Unfortunately, the country is heading that way - particularly with the arrival of cheapo Chinese-made cars. Disastrously, these Chinese cars generally capture the worst of the automobile: they're huge, ostentatious, inefficient and very polluting.

Car vendors claim that more new car means less pollution and better transit, when the opposite is true. That's because those old, used, pollution-belching vehicles stay on the road, polluting and congesting on their long, slow drive to the graveyard. Meanwhile, many of the new cars aren't clean at all.

Colombia's story captures many aspects of the Tragedy of the Commons, in which individual benefits generate a loss for the population as a whole. While a car generally gets you places faster than you would on public transit, (although perhaps slower than a bicycle) the whole city moves more slowly because of your car. And it's more polluted. And the planet suffers from more global warming gases.

But, propelled by immense amounts of marketing, Colombians want to buy cars and emulate the lifestyle of North Americans and Europeans - no matter that the car-addicted culture means sedenterism, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

Colombia could still do something about this, by improving public transit, switching subsidies from cars to bikes and transit and even putting warning labels on car ads, as they finally have on cigarrette packs.

But I'm not holding my ever-more-polluted breath.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Patch of England in Bogotá

Our bike tours often visit Bogotá's historic Central Cemetery, with its 22,000 tombs, many of them elaborate above-ground artworks.

I'd been told that hidden alongside the Central Cemetery there existed an English Cemetery, and I'd passed by its shut gates thousands of times. Today they were preparing for Remembrance Day and so the gates stood open and we walked into a green expanse which conjures up a little bit of Albion in Bogotá. The forested cemetery of lawns and simple Protestant headstones contrasts strongly with the concrete and elaborateness of the multi-story Spanish-style cemetery alongside. (I'd choose the English Cenetery to rest in peace in, but the Central Cemetery, with its artwork and traditions, is lots more interesting.)

The cementerio inglés is Bogotá's second-oldest cemetery, and its origins are tied into Colombia's own birth. Colombia gave the land to the English government in gratitude for the British Legion's service in Latin America's revolution against Spain. (The English were neither altruistic nor anti-empire, of course. They wanted to weaken Spain and open markets for English trade - the same reasons why France had supported the revolution in North America.) The cemetery's gates were made from melted down muskets and bayonets used by the British Legion. Legion veterans were buried here, and later other members of the English community. Eventually, the cemetery also became by default the burial ground for many Bogotá Protestants seeking an alternative to the neighboring Catholic Cemetery. Today, the cemetery is only seldom used, we were told.
The British Cemetery is legally part of the British Embassy grounds. That makes it a "corner of a foreign field that is forever England," complete even with sentimental poetry about Albion.
Also, see some photos on Flckr.

On Plaza Bolívar, a plaque honoring the British Legion. 
In recent years, Bogotá has converted the nearby children's cemetery into Parque del Renacimiento and plans to remove the nearby mausoleums and turn the area into soccer fields. It would be thoughtful of the British Embassy to open the unused part of its cemetery to the public, perhaps for cultural events or a space for art. It's a green, peaceful haven in the middle of the city, so it's a pity that it be closed off - especially as the area will become much busier whenever the adjoining Transmilenio station is finally, finally completed.

This is not Bogotá's only ethnic cemetery. On the Central Cemetery's west side is the German Cemetery and in southwest Bogotá the Jewish Cemetery.

Bogotá contains a surprising amount of English architecture, particularly in and around the Teusaquillo neighborhood, including this one-time housing block, now a small university:

And the La Merced neighborhood, which was actually built by the British Petroleum Company during the 1930s and '40s for its executives. Few of the houses are still homes. There are offices, universities, a backpackers' hostel, private clubs and restaurants.
British Petroleum-built homes in the La Merced neighborhood.
The sun will never set on the British Empire - as long as the sun shines in Bogotá!

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Displacement - the Unseen Tragedy

Colombia is not the world leader in many things. But the country may now be the world's no. 1 in something very  tragic - human displacement.

The phenomenon of desplazados has been a chronic problem in Colombia, as outlaw guerrillas and paramilitaries - and sometimes even the military itself - have forced peasants and townspeople to abandon their homes and farms. Often, the victims' only alternative is death.

After five years living in Colombia, much of that time working as a journalist, I've heard dozens of horrific stories of displaced people. In many cases, their family members were murdered by outlaw groups, their children or husband forced to become guerrilla or paramilitary fighters, and their land and livestock stolen by the outlaw groups.

Traditionally, Colombia has been considered to have the world's second- or third-largest number of displaced people, behind countries such as the Sudan, the Congo and Iraq. But a report the other day by a United Nations official in Ecuador says that Colombia with some 3.7 million displaced people (in addition to 350,000 refugees, most of them in Ecuador) has the world's largest refugee population.

The Colombian government denies this.

It's not easy to measure, since Colombia's is a long-running, relatively low-level conflict, and the displaced people slowly reintegrate themselves into society, making them a fluid, rolling population. But whether Colombia is number one or not is really just a technicality. The fact that Colombia has millions of displaced people is a tragedy from every perspective. And for the displaced themselves, the numbers and Colombia's ranking don't really matter.

What really matters is for these outlaw groups to stop terrorizing Colombia's humblest people, and for the government to quit debating numbers and do more to try to address this tragedy.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Jair Klein - Free?

Scot Free?
Israeli mercenary Yair Klein allegedly trained Colombian (and Lebanese) paramilitaries, as well as cocaine king Pablo Escobar's hitmen, who went on to commit massacres. Colombia convicted him en absentia for his crimes here.

In 2007, Klein was arrested in Russia, and there followed a three-year legal battle by Colombia to extradite him. However, the European Court of Human Rights issued an opinion that Klein's rights would be endangered in Colombia. This October, Russian officials decided to follow the court's recommendation and return Klein to Israel, Klein's lawyer just told the Jerusalem Post.

Bones from a mass grave of paramlitary victims.
The case is packed with ironies - the first being this mercenary who has allegedly collaborated with horrendous human rights violations in Colombia, Africa and likely other areas, appealing for mercy on human rights grounds. Most likely, Klein is right when he says he came here train paramilitaries with the blessing of the Colombian government. But does that justify his collaboration? Wasn't obedience to government the defense used by many Nazi war criminals?

It's even more ironic - and sad - to see parts of the Israeli government defending this man, even if he is 'something of a war hero,' as one Israeli tells me. After all, Israel's creation was in great degree a response to state-sponsored massacres.

In January 2011, Colombia asked Israel to extradite Klein. Klein claims that Colombian government officials had invited him to come here and that he didn't know that he was training bad guys.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Monday, November 8, 2010

History that Is Still Making News

Palace in flames - but who started the fire?

This weekend was the 25th anniversary of the M-19 guerrillas' attack on the Palace of Justice in Bogotá.

Pres. Santos participates in a memorial ceremony.
Despite a quarter century's passage, the attack, in which the M-19 took the justices hostage, the military counter-attacked and the palace was completely destroyed and about 100 people killed, continues to grip Colombia. Relatives of some of the people who disappeared during the attack continue demanding information about their family members. And several military officers are scheduled to be tried soon for extra-judicial killings committed during the retaking of the palace from the guerrillas.

On the other hand, several demobilized M-19 leaders are now in congress - and one ran for president.

No forgetting.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Can Bogotá Win the 'War Over the Penny'?

Anybody going anywhere?
La Guerra del Centavo, or The War Over the Penny, likely costs more lives in Colombia than does its armed conflict between guerrillas, the military, paramilitaries and narcos, and sometimes it's just as dramatic.

But this war involves buses, not guns or explosives.

Bogotá's is still a mostly private, very loosely regulated bus system. Many of the city's buses belong to owner/drivers or to people who own just a few buses. Others belong to politically powerful businessmen who own fleets of buses and use their influence to ensure that pollution and other inconvenient laws aren't enforced against them.

What this all produces is a chaotic, dirty and dangerous bus system, as well as the 'Guerra del Centavo.' Since most bus drivers get paid a percentage of the fares they collect, their incentive isn't to provide good service, but to carry as many people as possible - whether quickly, slowly, safely or pleasantly, doesn't matter to them. That's why you have buses charging to pass each other, stopping in the middle of intersections to pick up passengers, waiting unreasonable lengths of time for one more passenger, etc etc.

Sure it's convenient to be able to step off of the curb and have a bus stop for you in mid-block. But that's no good for traffic or an efficient way to run a transit system, as you'll realize as that same bus proceeds to stop every few dozen meters to pick up another fare.

Belching away
The existing, barely-regulated system also gives owners incentives to keep using any bus whose income exceeds its costs. That means there are too many buses, and many inefficient, pollution-belching, decades-old tanks continue congesting Bogotá's avenues and blackening its air.

This week, Bogotá signed contracts with private companies to create an Integrated System of Public Transit (SITP), which is supposed to bring us rational and efficient routes, newer, cleaner buses, and a more efficient city transport system all around. It should also be much easier for the passengers, who'll pay a single fare to use the buses, Transmilenio and an eventual metro system.

Yes, the plan isn't perfect. Ex-Mayor Enrique Peñalosa says it requires too many transfers - an aspect meant to generate more revenues for the bus operators. Others say that the bus companies, by staging a city-wide strike, were able to extort more than their fare share of revenue. But certainly it can be improved. And, undoubtedly, it'll be an improvement on the existing system. Almost anything would be.
'In Bogotá it will soon be possible to pay public transit drivers a just salary.' 'Bogotá will soon be a city without transit accidents caused by the 'War over the Penny.'' Let's hope so. And that the traffic jams and the pollution go away, too.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours