Bogotá’s above-ground mass transit system, the TransMilenio, was once a jewel in the Colombian capital’s crown.
Constructed in 2000, the bus system was hailed as a breakthrough for Latin American innovation. However, it soon became very clear that the transportation network couldn’t cope with the sheer volume of daily demand, as crime increased and stations were vandalized, while commuters staged large-scale protests criticizing the inadequate service.
Bogotá, under Mayor Gustavo Petro, has hatched yet another ambitious transport plan: the creation of a 13.79 billion-peso (approximately US$5 million) metro system, for which the council will cover 70 percent of the initial construction costs.
The proposed 24 km of metro lines will link the Calle 100 business district in the northern part of the city with the Las Americas portal in the southwestern part of the capital, with 27 stations en route.
Certainly, the project could solve a host of transport problems for a city riddled with traffic jams and congested road networks. The initial 2021 completion date, however, has been met with a lukewarm reception.
José Fernando Isaza, a Colombian academic and engineer, told local radio broadcaster RCN that the project will likely take at least a decade to complete.
“You have to consider that it will take 10 to 20 years in Bogotá, with the workforce on offer, the mayor and the council’s strategy,” he said.
Furthermore, swaths of the Colombian capital’s treasured green areas could potentially be destroyed or dug up to make way for track and station construction. This lack of citywide coordination is due in part to the absence of a single entity overseeing the project, which has in turn opened up a whole host of issues for the ambitious project — above all, funding.
Bogotá is left with two options: create a public-private partnership to begin metro construction, or the far less popular choice of funding the project with public funds.
The metro could cost Colombia an additional four to eight billion pesos on top of the 9.65 billion ($3.8 million) promised by President Santos’ government, according to local newspaper El Tiempo.
Petro’s latest idea to provide the outstanding project funds involves using the surplus tax slapped onto Colombia’s gasoline prices through 2036, well after metro construction is slated to finish.
Though Bogotá has been discussing potential — and desperately-needed — metro system plans for the past 70 years, such elaborate financing schemes and juggling of public funds has had an understandable negative effect on support for the project.
In addition, the county lacks a workforce with experience in the railway sector. In a forum on the questions surrounding the metro project, Santiago Henao, dean of the Civil School of Engineers, explained, “The country closed its doors to faculties specializing in railroads decades ago. From now onwards it will be up to academia to meet with the country’s need.”
Succeeding where the TransMilenio has failed?
Nobody in the city disputes the fact that Bogotá needs an updated transportation system. The metro proposal has the added bonus of an underground tunnel system, which is less at risk from earthquakes compared to an overground rail network like the one in Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city.
However, the question many are asking is: will the new metro system be able to succeed where the TransMilenio has failed by providing a safe and secure mass transport network, linking the two sections of the capital and serving the ever-growing ranks of commuters?
The more immediate problem, for many Colombians, is the issue of metro funding. As the government continues to hatch up convoluted economic alternatives, a definitive start date remains, at best, a pipe dream.