Thursday, February 2, 2012

On Cars and Colombia

Nothing movin': A routine traffic jam in La Candelaria.
Today's Car-Free Day in Bogotá (a misnomer) is a good time to look at cars in Colombia.

Gray skies at dawn: Morning
pollution above central Bogota. 
Colombia actually has a low per-capita level of car ownership, compared to wealthy nations and even many other developing countries, thanks in part to high gasoline prices and historically high import tariffs. That might come as a surprise to anybody trapped in Bogotá's horrendous traffic jams, but it's also a warning of how monumental those traffic jams could be as more Colombians buy cars. That's already happening: 150,000 new cars are brought into Bogotá every year, and that number looks likely to accelerate with increasing economic growth and free trade agreements with the United States, Korea and the European Union.

If authorities don't take strong measures soon, Bogotá will strangle in traffic.

A parked car blocks a handicapped
ramp in the National Park. 
The auto industry does generate lots of jobs in car assembly plants, sales, maintenance, etc etc. But the auto industry also bleeds Colombia's economy: about 60% of new cars are imported, taking capital out of the country, and each additional car consumes more gasoline, which otherwise could be exported and produce more income for Colombia's economy.

Add to that the pollution, traffic congestion and health problems caused by too many cars, and it's clear that automobiles are a drag on Colombia's economy, as well as its environment and quality of life.

Bogotá's Pico y Placa policy has obviously failed. Mayor Gustavo Petro wants to create a London-style congestion charge: that's not only a good idea. It's a necesity for this city.

Sensible transit? A cyclist passes cars in a traffic jam. 

Related blog posts: Scenes from Car-Free Day

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

Green or Grey Bogotá?

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

No comments: