Sunday, March 15, 2015

The 'Miracle' Metro

A jammed Bogotá road. Is a subway the solution?
It will reduce commute times, traffic congestion, pollution - and even crime and health problems, while saving Bogotá millions of dollars.

Those are some of the claims made by backers of a 15 trillion peso Bogotá subway line in a recent study by the company Teknidata, hired by the city's Urban Development Institute, the IDU.
A Bogotá bus belches smoke. Has anybody
thot of enforcing emissions laws?

But many of those claims look dubious from a glance at Latin American capitals such as Mexico City, Santiago, Chile and Caracas, Venezuela, all of which have much more extensive subway systems than Bogotá could have for decades - and still suffer from horrific pollution and traffic jams.

The reason is simple: Induced traffic demand. Opening up road space, by either building more roads or taking cars off of the roads using mass transit, will reduce traffic jams....for a while. But new drivers, seeing that wonderful open asphalt, will decide to make more trips. So, traffic ends up just as bad, or even worse.

This is not to say that a subway's a bad thing. In fact, it's an excellent thing for the many thousands of people who use it every day to get where they're going quickly underneath the traffic jams.

Will Bogotá's metro look this good?
But the question for a cash-strapped city isn't whether a metro would be a good thing (a space port, after all, would also be a good thing), but whether it's the most cost-efficient way to accomplish the city's goals. And a subway looks rather like the most expensive way to maybe achieve its goals:

Reduce traffic congestion? Rather than spending trillions of pesos digging up the city for a subway, Bogotá could reduce congestion AND make money by creating a London-style congestion charge. Such a charge would raise the cost of and thus disincentivize driving. More people car-pool, take buses, ride bikes or simply don't make that unnecessary trip, and traffic jams are reduced (and so is pollution).

Reduce pollution? This one's almost too obvious to be worth explaining. Bogotá has a bad air pollution problem. Bogotá also doesn't bother to enforce emission laws. Wouldn't enforcing the law be a good first step toward reducing pollution, rather than pretending a subway will do it a decade from now - by which time the city will be inundated with many thousands more polluting vehicles?

As for reducing crime, the newspaper article doesn't bother to explain this, and I won't try.

Bogotá's leadership is fixated on building not only any metro but the most expensive kind; a subway. And not because it's the best transit option, but - it seems to me - because other big cities have subways, and Bogotá wants to feel important. Incidentally, subway construction will also mean huge, juicy contracts for infrastructure companies.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours

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