Course:GEOG352/2019/Public Transportation in Bogota
Socio-economic and financial access to transport has been noted by scholars as an inhibiting factor to the development of a region’s full economic potential and exacerbating social problems. Being able to move throughout the city impacts people’s livelihood in a plurality of ways, making access to public transport important for urban prosperity. Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) systems have become popularized in response to a low-cost and easy to implement solution needed by cities of the global south. Initially conceptualized by the Mayor of Curitiba, Brazil in 1974, these systems have spread across the global south to cities such as Bogota. The BRT in Bogota, the TransMilenio, has inspired other cities of the global south due to its mass scale of implementation and cost effectiveness compared to metros, making it a symbol of south-south cooperation. Bogota is one of the most densely populated cities of Latin America, which makes access to transport particularly important.
Problem and Significance of Accessible Public Transportation
In most cities, the poorest of the population tend to live further away from economically advantaged areas where there are more formal jobs, and many poorer residents are unable to afford their own personal vehicle. The United Nations Settlement Programme defines the challenges of urban mobility as the preoccupation with “the means of mobility rather than its end”, therefore it is crucial that public transit aims to increase accessibility to those who have limited access to opportunities.  People can be prevented from feeling integrated in the city if they cannot access employment and involvement opportunities, services or social networks. As a result, there are higher rates of criminality and poverty in areas that have limited access to public transport likely to occur due to desperation and lack of access to resources. It is difficult for those who live in impoverished areas to overcome poverty if they cannot travel to areas where there is greater economic opportunity. The main problem of public transit in the global south is that it tends to be more geographically and economically accessible to the wealthier citizens of the city, despite how low-income residents are likely the ones who need to use it the most to access better economic opportunities.
Public Transportation in the Global South
Rapid urbanisation introduces challenges for transportation systems in the Global South. The ability to facilitate safe, efficient and fast transport influences a region’s ability to develop economically. Informal transportation systems, characterized by their flexibility and availability as they operate without a fixed schedule, are prevalent in megacities. In many cities, they make up the dominant public transportation system. Yet, the lack of structure in informal transportation systems creates unsafe traffic conditions. Governments try to address this threat to urban growth by implementing formal transportation systems.
A study by EMBARQ, Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts of Bus Rapid Transit Systems reports that the benefits from implementing a BRT system exceeds the costs by studying four different case studies: Bogota, Mexico City, Johannesburg, and Istanbul. By reducing commuting time, the level of emissions and increasing traffic safety and physical activity, a BRT system was found to improve the wellbeing of residents.
Why We Have Chosen Bogota
Bogota is a rapidly growing city whose population has grown by 1.9 times in the past 30 years to about 8 million, and surrounding areas have grown about 2.8 times, therefore it is imperative that the city allows for greater access to employment opportunities mostly located in the city centre. Bogota has experienced exponential growth in the last half century due to an uncontrolled flow of migrants, particularly after the Colombian civil war of 1964 when many people from rural areas were displaced, contributing to mass urbanization of Bogota. Consequently, many informal settlements have been constructed on the south-side and periphery of the city which has posed a problem for access to transport on socio-economic lines. The case of Bogota is very interesting as the current Mayor Penalosa envisioned the TransMilenio system to create a more “democratic urban space” where Bogota’s citizens more easily could move throughout the city. TransMilenio demonstrates commitment to serving a wider variety of people and expanding service to lower socioeconomic areas of the city, however it still has to grow to increase accessibility to a larger clientele.
Case Study of TransMilenio System in Bogota
Background information of the TransMilenio System: Ownership and Construction
Currently, the TransMilenio is managed by a public-private system. Awards are given to private sectors by public bodies on a competitive structure. In the mid 1980s, both the state and private sector were in an agreement of dividing responsibility. For example, private bus owners and drivers were hired by private firms. The TransMilenio became customer oriented and optimized ticket fares based on quality of service, type of vehicle, and carrying capacity together with new routes and explicit bus stops.
The total cost to build the Bogotá TransMilenio was COL$4,676,270,000,000. The upcoming Phase III will cost COL$2,239,651,000,000. The aims of the first three construction phases were to decrease 61.2 million tons of pollutants, increase speed and decrease travel time, decrease accident rates, and formalize the transportation sector. There are an estimated eight phases that will last until 2031 to increase the amount of corridors and bus routes' lengths. Construction costs have contributed to annual fare hikes.
General Accessibility Issues to the TransMilenio
Bogota demonstrates many accessibility issues for its poorer population. There is lack of accessibility from the southern part of Bogotá, the most densely populated and impoverished area. Meanwhile, the northern half is privileged with greater accessibility, where most economic opportunities are located near the city center. Currently, only 49% of the total population of Bogotá has access to the BRT system as 534 of the 1128 urban neighbourhoods live within 600 meters walking distance to a station. The ultimate goal for TransMilenio is to increase accessibility to more of the population, especially with Mayor Peńalosa’s future plans to create a subway line.
The Integrated Public Transport System (SITP) fare increased from $900 in 2000 to $2000 in 2017. TransMilenio fares have also steadily increased since 2000. In 2018, the cost to ride TransMilenio is COL$2000 while the SITP is COL$1700 per ride. Dual ridership is accessible via a Tu LLave card that is purchasable at COL$5000.
Increasing fares relative to stagnant wages and the cost to commute to work has been the main concern of Bogotános. In 2004, fare instability began to be a problem in the public eye. Lower income citizens spend an estimated 20-30% of their household income on commuting. Frequent price jumps due to maintenance and the expansion of TransMilenio prompted riders to protest. High fares and overcrowding in buses induced a riot in 2012 which led to the destruction of five bus stations  and 70 arrests.
A fare reduction was introduced in 2012 to encourage passengers to ride during off-peak periods to mitigate the overcrowding effect during the peak period. The fare was reduced from COL$1700 to COL$1350 during off-peak hours. Fare reductions were shown to increase average daily ridership during peak periods. This type of flat fare increases accessibility by allowing higher-income communities with shorter travel distance to cross-subsidize their counterparts who have longer distances to commute due to their location on the periphery.
TransMilenio has developed many different types of buses and alternative transportation to address the different urban, residential and peripheral areas of Bogotá. The BRT system uses bus-only lanes and are integrated with feeder buses at terminus stations known as “portals.” Bus-only lanes allow for BRT vehicles to overcome traffic gridlock. The BRT system consists of 13 main lines labeled from A to M, 138 stations and 9 portals that spread throughout the city. The 13 lines reach most main corridors of the city, however the accessibility to BRT for those who live in the poorest areas is very limited as BRT lines mostly run through the city centre where the middle class lives.
Feeder routes that are not part of the main BRT routes serve local roads to connect residential areas to the BRT system. It is an attempt to provide accessibility to those who do not live along the main BRT lines. Bogota’s lower-income population tends to live at the periphery of the city, and they have the least amount of access to transportation as other feeder bus lines have much more service. For instance, feeder buses travel to the periphery of the city on only 13 routes while buses that serve residential areas near the city center have 113 routes. In addition to feeder buses, the TransMiCable cable car connects the transit system to the southern mountainous district of Ciudad Bolivar. Commuters from Ciudad Bolivar that used to commute about 50 minutes to reach a main portal of the BRT can now travel in just 13 minutes. There has been progress in providing more accessibility to those who live in impoverished areas of Southern Bogota with the introduction of TransMiCable, however BRT lines disproportionately serve more of the city centre in middle-class areas.
Property Value and TransMilenio Presence
The TransMilenio and land and property value have a relationship where the presence of BRT lines influence land value, and perceived land value based on geographic position in the social context of the city affect the presence of BRT lines.
First, the presence of BRT lines has been found to increase the presence of businesses and commercial development in “Portal” areas. A positive correlation between an increase in commercial property value and the proximity of BRT stations has been found. However, correlations between residential property values and TransMilenio presence have had mixed-results due to a lack of available data and an extensive variety of factors affecting prices. Scholars have noted a “gentrifying role” that the TransMilenio has played in poor communities; the construction of stations has been linked with increased rent and the destruction or displacement of informal marketplaces and spaces of informal business. These two phenomenon affect the ability for low-income individuals to reside in their homes once stations have been built by making their living situations unaffordable and by limiting their access to spaces of informal employment.
On the other hand, property scholars have noted that the socio-geographic context may also affect the presence of TransMilenio. In 2006, the community association of Salitre, a low-middle income community, tried to mobilize against the construction of a bus line. Even after multiple visits with the Secretary of Transport, the line was built. In contrast, a similar mobilization occurred to oppose the construction of a TransMilenio line on 7th Ave; a main street that traverses some of the cities most affluent households. As the “Respect the 7th Movement” had better access to mobilization resources and influence, they were effectively able to halt the construction of the line emphasizing how socio-geographic contexts and the ability to access financial resources and exert social influence, can determine the presence of BRT lines.
TransMilenio increases accessibility to formal jobs for low income workers. Bogota, about 50% percent of workers are employed in the informal sector. Individuals may choose to work in the informal sector when the cost of commuting to the inner city is a barrier to accessing a formal job. The average commuting time for a low-income workers is 77 min while it is only 40 min for high-income workers. Formal employment opportunities are concentrated in the city’s center. Therefore, unequal access to public transportation mostly impacts low income residents of the west and south periphery. TransMilenio improves access to formal jobs by reducing commuting time. While the average speed of a traditional bus is 12 km/h, a TransMilenio bus travels on average 32 km/h. The effects of increased employment opportunities were not seen in the center of Bogota, where employment opportunities were already high, but rather in the west and south periphery. Measuring employment accessibility by “the number of labor opportunities that can be accessed” by public transport given a 60 min threshold, employment opportunities increased from 39.8% to 91.1% in the west and south periphery. In addition, TransMilenio has created about 2400 permanent jobs.
From our study of TransMilenio in Bogota, the BRT system has its limitations because it is often overcrowded and congested as 8 million people reside in the city, thus plans are currently underway to develop a metro system which will help improve accessibility to low-income populations. Nevertheless, if future cities cannot afford to invest in a metro, the BRT system can be a good alternative that increases accessibility throughout the city for a large population. Furthermore, flat fares and fare stability have proven to improve accessibility by lower-income populations and should be further implemented in the BRT. Having unstable fare prices often anger riders and cause riots, as seen in Bogota in 2012, especially as lower income residents could unexpectedly spend 20-30% of their income on transportation. An unexpected lesson learned was that increasing BRT coverage to unserved areas may actually improve air quality because it incentivizes the phasing out of informal old, poorly maintained and highly air-polluting buses. For example, in Bogota it was actually found that areas with bus corridors saw a drop in air pollution while air pollution levels rose in unserved parts of Bogota because of persistent use of informal bus services. In addition, a broad BRT coverage benefits residents of the cities periphery through improved access to the inner city. The BRT system itself creates formal jobs which can positively affect a city’s economic growth. Lastly, the TransMilenio experience has highlighted how future BRT systems need to consider the inequalities of access to transport for women, as there has been an increased rates of sexual harassment for women on the BRT. For example, a survey claimed that 64% of 380 women have been groped or physically harassed on the BRT in Bogotá, which has led to women avoiding using the TransMilenio.
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