Thursday, April 11, 2013

Is Bogotá Ready for a Congestion Charge?

Drivers wait, and wait, on a downtown Bogotá street. With a congestion charge, they might be home by now. 
Stopped cars block
a TM bus.
Does Bogotá need a traffic congestion charge?

Is it ready for one?

The answer to the first question is a clear yes, as anybody who's sat thru the city's massive traffic jams can attest. But the second question is more complex.

The municipal and national governments are preparing legislation to enable the city to charge drivers who contribute to traffic jams, particularly in central Bogotá, according to El Espectador.

A private car, which may carry only one person,
can occupy almost as much road space as a bus,
with dozens of passengers.
This week, two transit experts from Transport for London visited Bogotá to advise the city about congestion charges and other policies. The Britons told El Espectador that London's charge had reduced congestion by 35%, while also financing public transit. (It's also reduced air pollution.)

But the two men seemed to damn Bogotá's transit with faint praise: "There's potential," they opined, "but (the transit systems) should be more integrated."

Bogotá's Parque Nacional turns into a public parking lot on
many days. Here, cars block a pedestrian ramp.
They might have added that TransMilenio is inadequate for the city and that the private buses are old, polluting and chaotic. Meanwhile, the number of private cars, which hog 80% of road space but transport only 20% of people, is exploding.

London implemented its congestion charge when its transit system was ready, the Britons pointed out. Today, London's transit system includes its subway, light rail lines, buses, a cable car, river boats and public bicycles.

Bogotá is not quite there yet.

However, as the number of private cars explodes, Bogotá's huge traffic jams will only get worse, unless official take strong measures soon. And pico y placa has clearly failed.

Bogotá has a surplus of thousands of old, polluting buses.
But city leaders fear the bus companies' ire 
Congestion charges, like all taxes, generate lots of opposition at first. But where they've been implemented, residents generally come to like them once they experience the benefits. After all, today drivers are paying a high price in less concrete ways: lost time, burned fuel and more stress and pollution.

A congestion charge will not be the perfect solution. Nor will it convert Bogotá transit into that of London or Paris. But it can only be an improvement over the sorry situation that exists now.

Car economics: 'What they sell', 'What you buy' and 'What we all pay.'

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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