Original post date: October 07, 2013
Article by: Ben Douglas

The World Bank has devoted a considerable amount of funding in recent years to the establishment of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems in Latin America (and Africa). Numerous prominent Latin American cities have taken loans from the global financial institution for this purpose, including Mexico City, Santiago (Chile), Pereira (Colombia), Guayaquil (Ecuador), Guatemala City, and Lima (Peru). The last provides an interesting case study in the development of public transit because of its rapid growth and dramatic policy changes.

In the 1980s, Lima’s transportation sector was highly regulated and had only one formal transit system—the National Urban Transport Company (ENATRU). The state-owned enterprise operated 600 small, unreliable buses that failed to keep up with the city’s rapidly growing population, particularly in the suburbs. To make matters worse, the terrorist group “Shining Path” burned over 100 buses in three years. Juan Tapia, the head of ENATRU and a director of Protransporte (the city’s public transportation agency), was forced to coat the buses in fire-retardant paint and put armed guards aboard, as well as defend himself and his family from assassination attempts.

The 1990s brought dramatic change under President Alberto Fujimori. Deregulation, the liquidation of ENATRU and the lowering of import tariffs paved the way for an unprecedented expansion. This proved to be both a blessing and a curse. “We went from having 10,500 buses to having 50,000,” says Tapia. “Lima was total chaos.” The city’s 570 bus routes and 257 different transportation companies may have been a boon for those hard-to-reach suburban commuters, but they also crowded the streets and polluted the air. According to the World Bank, “Lima was the largest city in Latin America without a metro or BRT and the largest world-wide without mass transit.” This was the state of transportation in Lima when the first line of its new BRT Metropolitano opened in May 2010, four years after construction began. Developed under a public-private partnership, the new public transit system was ushered in with a host of new rules and regulations.

Some of the measures were greeted with enthusiasm. In Peru’s very own cash-for-clunkers scheme, the government shelled out $4,000 to $10,000 per bus to private companies, resulting in the scrapping of over 1000 older buses. This was meant to simultaneously address concerns of pollution, crowding, and an outdated bus system. Harsher measures, such as a city ordinance outlawing private buses within 400 meters of the Metropolitano (a move affecting 1,800 buses), have drawn the ire of private operators. In a city where up to a quarter of the population’s livelihood is dependent upon the private provision of public transport, the institution of a state-sponsored cartel inevitably steps on some toes. Tapia explains: “When a [bus]works, you have the owner, the driver, the cobrador (“collector”), sometimes two cobradores and two drivers, then you have the guy who comes and cleans the bus, then the lady who sells the corn, the lady who sells cakes, the lady who sells drinks – this generates jobs, and they would all lose their jobs.” Planners must thus be sensitive to the needs of private operators if they are to avoid further citywide transport strikes.

The formalization of taxi services constitutes another area of reform in Lima. Of the estimated 330,000 taxis in Peru’s capital, only a third are registered. As part of the new wave of reforms, drivers are given 105 days to register with the government. Requirements are aimed at modernizing the service by eliminating all vehicles over 15 years old, less than 1,000 kilograms, or deemed not roadworthy. Drivers who register receive benefits from the municipal government, such as health care and free lectures providing information on tourism. They may also adorn their cabs with the Setame label, signifying their approval by the Servicio de Taxi Metropolitan, the administrative authority that regulates taxi services. New regulations also require cabs bearing the Setame label to be painted yellow.

These regulatory measures, as well as the introduction of the Metropolitano and other projects funded by the World Bank loan (such as sidewalks and bikeways), are meant to reduce traffic congestion, modernize transit, improve the lives of commuters, and reduce Lima’s contributions to climate change. Only time can tell whether or not these goals are accomplished, and reform is far from complete. The World Bank has already agreed to fund $700 million of the estimated $5 billion needed for the construction of the Metropolitano’s second line. For many commuters, this news is welcome. Lima’s bus system is still chaotic and crowded, with about 28 competing companies for any given kilometer of bus route. Despite the illegal status of many of these drivers, they remain the primary providers of urban transport.

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