Bus-free day? Calle 26, usually busy with private buses.
Bus-free day? Calle 26, usually busy with private buses.

TODAY COLOMBIA – Thousands of private buses stayed home today in what could be the beginning of a battle over the future of the city’s public transportation.

Bogota's Calle 26 without buses.
Bogota’s Calle 26 without buses.

Mayor Petro wants to replace the city’s old, chaotic, polluting private buses with the Integrated Public Transit System, or SITP. But the SITP has been poorly implemented. Few people ride the buses, pushing some of the system’s private operators toward bankruptcy. And, many of the blue SITP buses belch as much smog as do the traditional private buses, altho Petro’s ‘Humane Bogotá’ doesn’t seem to care about that.

Petro’s solution was draconian: Expanding the city’s failed Pico y Placa anti-traffic congestion rule from private cars to the private buses, banning them from the streets two days each week depending on the last digit of their license plates. The law has been on the books for years, named the ‘Environmental Pico y Placa.’ Since ‘clean air’ is not in this mayor’s vocabulary, the law had been forgotten – until Petro needed a weapon in his battle with the private bus companies. Now Petro decided to enforce it, but evidently with no environmental criteria.

Calle 26 on a normal afternoon in Bogota, Colombia's capital city
Calle 26 on a normal afternoon in Bogota, Colombia’s capital city

The move does make some sense, since transit specialists agree that Bogotá has an excess of buses, many of which are old and polluting. But the law’s real, thinly-disguised motivation was to force passengers onto the SITP buses. Inconveniently, however, many pointed out that many outlying neighborhoods lack SITP lines.

The strike dramatically reduced traffic in central Bogotá. But that was probably also because many people just stayed home today. As for the SITP buses, while they appeared to carry more passengers than usual, I saw many that were nearly empty or carried few passengers, despite the strike.

Will the bus companies persist in their strike? Can Petro take the political cost? Tune in in a few days.

A SITP bus with an impressive number of passengers. (The man on the bench is displaying his solidarity with the bus strike.)
A SITP bus with an impressive number of passengers. (The man on the bench is displaying his solidarity with the bus strike.)

Article first appeared on Today Colombia, reposted with permission


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