Thursday, May 3, 2012

Busting Bogotá's Budget?

Old Tranvia rails on Ave. Septima. A sign of things to come?
Mayor Petro's proposed city budget is extraordinary in several ways: it would build three new transit systems and several expansions all at once, while also giving a big slice of the pie to social programs.

Indigenous people beg on a downtown sidewalk.
Petro's budget plan would also invest a lot
in social services.
The proposed new transit systems: a metro, light rail on Seventh Ave. and Medellin-style cable cars up to poor hillside neighborhoods in south Bogotá, together with two new TransMilenio corridors, would undoubtedly transform Bogotá for the better - if they're ever built.

The plan would cost 61.1 trillion pesos according to El Espectador - compared with 38 and 33 trillion peso budgets by the previous mayors. And that would put Bogotá into debt.

But a glance at Bogotá's clogged and chaotic streets any rush hour shows that, unless the city makes dramatic moves soon, the onslaught of new vehicles will turn Bogotá into one big gridlock. Transit plays a huge role in every aspect of city life. Traffic jams steal productive hours from recreation, work and studies. Traffic's pollution damages our health. And the noise and frustration of traffic jams raises everybody's stress levels.

Nowhere to roll: Cars stuck in a traffic
jam in downtown Bogotá.
Efficient mass transit can transform a city - at least for those who use it. But the experiences of many other cities has proven that good transit doesn't eliminate traffic jams. To do that, Bogotá needs to take strong measures to phase out those old and highly polluting buses with infest our avenues and to discourage the use of the private car, which is the least efficient transport method invented by mankind.

That's why Petro's idea of a London-style congestion charge is so vital to Bogotá's future, and why talk of lowering the price of gasoline is so destructive.

Petro's budget - if it's approved - is a huge gamble. If it works, it could mean sustainable economic growth for a long time to come. But if it fails, it could leave Bogotá still dysfunctional but saddled with a huge debt to boot.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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