Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Bogota Subway...For Your Grandchildren?

Petro and the Metro. 
It's a fundamental part of Bogotá's election cycle: A new mayor gets elected, and he promises the city a subway system.

Altho during the campaign Mayor-elect Gustavo Petro was uncommital on subway plans, now that he's won he sounds like he wants to build one - except that he's not sure where. Petro's subway line will run north-south, but maybe also east-west, to cover a lot of the city.

Lima's new metro: Ready to roll soon?
If Bogotá goes ahead, let's hope it does better than Lima, Peru, which is just about to inaugurate a new metro line - after only 30 years of waiting. Construction on Lima Peru's electric train began during Alan Garcia's first presidency, in the late '80s. Garcia's administration finished a line of 9 kilometers - but it was useless, since it didn't reach the city center. Then came years of corruption, terrorism, economic chaos and political turmoil. Neighbors converted the unused subway line into an urban art canvas. In 2009, Garcia, back in power, started work up again and Lima expects the line to open to the public....pretty soon. This first train line will measure 21.5 kms and have 16 stations. The new work also cost more than a half-billion dollars, $43 million per km, about $100 million more than budgeted, .

The lessons from Lima: Don't count on things going smoothly. In an era of global economic turmoil, in a Colombia with an armed insurgency, lots of things could happen to halt subway construction for years or even decades.

Once it really got to work, Lima did progress at good speed - but Lima's is an above-ground train line. By most accounts, Bogotá's line would be mostly underground, complicating construction and meaning more urban trauma.

A Bogotá metro inauguration in 2036?

Riding the rails in Algiers.
Similarly, just this month Algiers, Algeria inaugurated a metro line - just 28 years after construction started.  Like Lima's metro, oil-rich Algeria's project was delayed by a civil war and economic troubles. There's also concern there that the cost of the fare, equal to about five loaves of bread, is too much for Algerians' budgets. The 9 km subway line cost about $1.5 billion, or $160 million per km. A similar line in Bogotá would only carry you from the city center to Chapinero.

The lesson from Algeria: To build a subway, plan on no economic turmoil or domestic unrest. Of course, none of that happens in Colombia.

A mini-metro for Bogotá in 2039?

Wrapped up and ready to roll:
a Bangalore, India metro train.
Finally, a sort-of success story from India. India's hi-tech capital Bangalore recently opened a 9 km metro line, about five years after construction began. Sounds good - relatively speaking.

Yet, compare that to Bogotá's TransMilenio, which in about 12 years has constructed 84 kms of lines. Even its overdue and corruption-plagued Phase 3, which is supposed to start operating early next year after more than two years of construction, will add about 18 kms of lines (to be extended to 20). That's double the distance Bangalore built in five years, and almost what Lima built in three decades.

Keep in mind, too, that, while subways do move lots of people quickly and cleanly, they cost a fortune and do little to resolve traffic congestion.

Yes, a subway system would be a boost for Bogotá - but will any of us live to see one?

A TransMilenio bus in La Candelaria. A good deal, despite its problems?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Joaco Rojas said...

"To build a subway, plan on no economic turmoil or domestic unrest. Of course, none of that happens in Colombia."

I disagree completely. Colombian macroeconomics are in good shape, even moreso than in quite a few First World countries. And I don't see how political situation in some areas of the country would affect Bogotá and its subway construction

Miguel said...

Any economic turmoil would not necessarily be Colombia's fault: the country's economy is heavily dependant on commodities. What if petroleum and coal prices nosedive? Suddenly, Bogotá would be stuck with lots of commitments and little tax income.