Skip to main content
Traffic nightmares

Without radical improvements in transportation planning, many Latin American cities are headed for collapse." This stark assessment was offered by Henry Malbrán, technical advisor to Chile's Secretariat of Transport and Telecommunications, at a recent gathering of transportation planners at BID headquarters in Washington, D.C.Although Latin American companies and individuals have learned to live with bottlenecks and delays, the economic recovery of the last few years has shown that transportation woes are reaching the crisis point in many of the region's cities. Unprecedented numbers of people and volumes of goods are struggling to enter and exit cities each day and the number of automobiles on city streets is growing steadily.

But municipal spending on public transportation, environmental enforcement and road construction and maintenance is simply not keeping pace. And many of the people who need transportation the most still can't afford it.

Much of the discussion at the meeting, which was billed as a brainstorming session that will contribute to future BID policies in the transportation sector, revolved around Santiago and Curitiba, capital of the Brazilian state of Paraná--two cities that have received international attention for their approaches to solving urban transportation problems.

In Curitiba, starting in the 1970s, city officials designated five major corridors in the city for exclusive use by public buses. At the same time, they awarded building permits for "dense" commercial development only along these corridors. Bus routes are awarded to private companies as concessions, and service and quality are strictly monitored.

In Santiago, four times Curitiba's size, authorities are struggling to control severe air pollution and congestion problems through a two-pronged strategy of prioritizing public transportation and rationalizing the use of private cars. A decade ago, bus service in Santiago was a chaotic free-for-all of private operators who crowded the city's busiest arteries but frequently ignored low-traffic peripheral areas. Service was poor and many buses were old and highly polluting. Today, Santiago awards route concessions in competitive auctions to carriers who offer the best service and cleanest-burning buses. Routes are set and regulated by municipal authorities in order to ensure rational coverage of all Santiago's neighborhoods, and special lanes have been set aside for buses on major roads. Service has improved radically, emissions are somewhat lower, and some 61 percent of Santiago's inhabitants now use buses to get to work.

Although participants at the BID meeting stressed that the experience of Curitiba and Santiago may not apply to many other cities, they agreed on several essential points for successful transportation planning.

First, such plans must be an integral part of a broader urban development plan that recognizes land-use policies as a critical component.

Second, cities must create strong regulatory agencies capable of monitoring and enforcing land use and transportation policies across multiple jurisdictions.

Third, cities must find fair and creative ways to discourage the use of private cars as a means of getting to work in large cities.

Finally, officials should carefully assess the merits of all public transport modes, and encourage the adoption of clean-burning vehicles by public transport providers.


Jump back to top