Friday, March 9, 2012

Troubled Times for TransMilenio

Young men juggling block TM buses on Jimenez Ave. 
As tho the long delays, corruption scandal and huge cost over-runs on TransMilenio's expansion project weren't hard enough on the system, in recent days it's suffered a series of blockades, climaxing in today's vandalism, which climaxed today in a near-shut down of the system. Click here for photos.

A line of halted TM buses on Jimenez. 
Critics attack the system's overcrowding, delays and the poor condition of the roadways on some of its exclusive lanes. But some of those complaints can be interpreted as symptoms of the system's success. It's only crowded because lots of people use it.

A gouge in Jimenez Ave. Repairing these would cost
much less than does the damage to buses'
shock absorbers and suspensions.
Today's protests, however, went way beyond into violence and vandalism, apparently fueled by leftist political parties. El Tiemp printed photos of young men smashing TM stations - how does that make this city more liveable?

The potholes along many of TM's corridors, which jar buses' suspensions and passengers' spines, have been one of the system's chronic problems, and many people blame them on corruption and poor design.  The problem has been in the news again because of reports of damaged pavement on the new Calle 26 corridor - which hasn't even been inaugurated yet.

Traditional buses on Carrera 10; old, polluting and inefficient.
Mayor Gustavo Petro told reporters that he believes that political opponents are behind the protests. A bit strangely, some people criticize TM's business structure because the service is contracted out to private bus 'operators.' But the old, traditional, chaotic and polluting buses are also owned by private companies, and Bogotá's perennial corruption problems demonstrate that public officials aren't particularly efficient at running things, either.

TM, the way it's supposed to work,
with open, dedicated lanes. 
This morning I heard a young man who was juggling in front of a row of parked TM buses on Jimenez Ave. complain that 'the system's money is being used to fill businessmen's pockets instead of repairing the pavements.'

Empty TM lanes and stations on Caracas Ave. 
Despite all of its problems, TM has enabled Bogotá to build a transit network, whereas if the city has decided on a subway they might have a single line by now. The city's best, and only, option is to push ahead with improving and expanding the system by putting into operation the new corridors on Carrera 10 and 26th St., as well as finally building some sort of efficient transit on 7th Ave. Mayor Petro also plans on TM lines on other major avenues.

Even more fundamental is the planned Integrated Public Transit System (SITP), which would combine TM, the traditional buses and planned subway and light rail lines into a single, more efficient transit system. Petro also plans to create a congestion charge for private vehicles, which should generate more revenue for public transit. If done well, the changes will relieve the burden on TM and reduce congestion throughout the system.

Bogotá needs to push ahead with resolve and all due speed on these transit reforms. There is no turning back.

A TransMilenio bus amidst traffic
near the National University. 
Update: In the wake of the protests, officials have promised to make several improvements: to give TM buses priority at intersections (which should have been done from the start), to lengthen stations and add more, longer buses, make routes more efficient and give TM more exclusive lanes and corridors. 

Mayor Petro has also talked about creating exclusive lanes for regular buses. If he implements the idea, as he should, mass transit will finally get the priority it deserves over the private car. That would also enable the city to impose more control on the private buses, such as requiring them to control their pollution. 

Related posts:

Five Mysteries about Transmilenio

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

A mural satirizes TransMilenio's overcrowding problem.

A cop escorts a TM bus. 

Bogotá's old buses. 

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Peter said...

Why would you insist they put a train underground and not insist they put a bus underground too?

It's called Light Rail (LRT) -- not BRT -- it's popular around the world -- BRT has brought Bogota to a near-standstill, has prompted everyone to buy a car as soon as possible because walking, biking, and taking the bus are miserable.

An above-ground bus vs. a below-ground train? Who thought of such a stupid idea? Might as well compare apples with iPhones -- what's the point?

Miguel said...

Hi Peter,

Thanks for your comment, but I beg to differ.

Did I say anything about putting trains underground? One trouble with putting either trains or buses (does that happen) underground is the huge expense and urban trauma - which would make the ongoing TM work seem like kids' play.

TransMilenio, BRT, has not 'brought Bogotá to a standstill.' Rather, the TM buses are often the only vehicles moving. Too many cars and other vehicles are turning the city into one big gridlock. Take a look at the traffic jams and tell me what kinds of vehicles you see most of.

Light rail (as opposed to a subway) could be excellent, since it doesn't pollute and is more attractive to higher-income people.



Repensar Transmilenio said...

I would like to share with you and your readers this proposal to discuss.

Why TransMilenio doesn´t Work? ¿Por qué no funciona TransMilenio?

Thank you and best regards.

Miguel said...

Hi Repensar,

Thanks for your comment and slideshow, which I think is a very illustrative critique.

I think that it's important to remember that, with all of its problems, Bogotá's much better off with TM than it would be without it. Also, if the city had chosen another system, such as a subway, undoubtedly it'd still have the same troubles with cost overruns, corruption scandals, etc.