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Case studieS Summary : BogotÁ, Colombia
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Bogotá, Colombia
Title: Study of Urban Public Transport Conditions inBogotá, Colombia
Author: Arturo Ardila
Date: April 2005
Download the case study (MS Word 979KB)


Institutional and political context
The Transmilenio system

This case study is based on extensive research on the public transportation system in Bogotá.

The public transport sector in the city is a mixture of systems. The old system comprises mainly individual operators, sub-contracted to companies which hold licenses for particular routes; some companies own some vehicles and operate in a more organized manner. This system carries the majority of passengers in Bogotá. The second is the formal, high-quality, Transmilenio, using a system of exclusive busways. Finally, there are informal operators, which do not pay the fees required by the bus companies.

In 2004, there were 6,582 full-sized buses and 10,968 smaller Busetas operating in the old system, and 681 Transmilenio buses, a total of 18,231 vehicles excluding those owned by the informal operators. Compared with similar cities, the number of buses per head of population is disproportionately high (3.6 buses per 1,000 inhabitants compared with 1.7 in Santiago, 1.0 in Quito, 0.7 in Curitiba and 0.6 in Sao Paolo).

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Institutional and political context
Colombia’s National Government is responsible for setting broad policies in the urban transport sector but the constitution delegates to the municipalities a series of responsibilities, including many relating to the provision of public transport.

Municipal governments are responsible for planning and regulating urban transport, including setting bus routes and fares, and for funding the construction, and maintenance of infrastructure in partnership with the private sector. They contract out through different types of contracts the provision of passenger services by the private sector. Increasingly, the trend has been for municipalities to tap private sector capital to fund public service provision.

The Secretariat of Traffic and Transport (STT) is an agency of the city government. Its responsibilities include issuing regulations specific to the City of Bogotá and enforcing those regulations, as well as those mandated by the national government. It is also responsible for authorizing the creation of bus companies and for supervising them, for authorizing new bus routes and determining their schedules, and determining the size of fleet required to serve the assigned routes. STT does not, however, have the organizational capacity to adequately perform these responsibilities.

Colombian law allows only bus companies to provide public transportation services. In theory, these bus companies should own buses but in practice, 96% of the bus companies owned less than 10% of their fleet. Their main assets are the routes. The companies rent the routes to the owners of the buses, who by law may not operate unless affiliated to a company, paying a monthly fee plus a lump sum for the right to operate.

Bus companies therefore have an incentive to maximize the number of bus routes. Because of its lack of organizational capacity, STT cannot verify the need for new routes and as a result the number of routes, and buses operating them, have proliferated.

In practice, the bus companies are not responsible for the actual provision of bus services; they are merely intermediaries between the bus owners and the government. The bus drivers are critical actors in the provision of public transportation services. The competition between them has led to dangerous driving, disregard of schedules and mistreatment of passengers.

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The Transmilenio system
The Transmilenio system was introduced to overcome these problems through competition for the market rather than in the market. A new agency was created to develop a high-quality bus rapid transit system using high-capacity buses and a trunk and feeder system and to administer the contracting out through competitive bidding of bus services to private sector operators. These operators must own their bus fleets. While the old bus companies initially rejected the idea, they soon realized Transmilenio offered them the opportunity to participate in a profitable business.

Transmilenio pays the operators on the basis of kilometers operated. This eliminates the dangerous competition for each passenger present endemic in the old system. If more passengers than estimated used the system, the extra revenue goes almost entirely to the operators. Likewise, if demand is lower than initially expected, then the operators’ return is lower.

Transmilenio operates under a trunk and feeder system. It currently has four trunk corridors, in which articulated buses operate on segregated lanes. There are two exclusive lanes for buses in each direction. Trunk buses have doors on the left side because the stations are located on the median of the corridor. Passengers pay upon entering the stations and board the buses from a platform at the same height as the bus floor.

The city built a series of garages for the Transmilenio system with office space and parking and maintenance facilities for the buses. Each concessionaire has the right to operate a number of buses and one of these garages. There are terminals at the ends of each busway where feeder buses transfer the passengers to the trunk buses.

However, the Transmilenio system is facing problems. One is the high cost of building new busways. Another is the conflict with the old bus system. While Transmilenio has reasonable political support, other operators are gathering power to slow down or even halt Transmilenio’s expansion. This is due partly to the lack of a sound regulatory framework. Currently, there is an institutional conflict between STT and Transmilenio because both can regulate public transportation, both strive for organizational survival, and both have support from their operators.

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The public transportation situation in Bogotá is complex. The city has a world-class bus rapid transit system but most of the demand is met by a system that offers a low level of service and that survives by cannibalizing its own vehicles and inflating its fares. There are several reasons for this.

The Secretariat of Transportation and Transit is a weak city agency compared to those it has to regulate. The weakness of the government has led to both inadequate rules and regulations and inadequate enforcement.

The weakness of the state translates into policies that overwhelmingly and disproportionately favor the most powerful actors — the bus companies — at the expense of weaker ones, such as bus owners and bus riders. The bus companies extract ample rents from doing little to provide adequate public transportation and exploit bus owners by having them pay for the right to use a route and by forcing them to compete with one another. At the same time, bus owners support bus companies’ efforts to increase the fare above its true costs because it is one way to survive despite decreasing ridership.

At the bottom lies the rider, the least powerful actor. In theory, a capable and strong government could protect the rider by diminishing these power imbalances. In strengthening the city government’s capacity and power, therefore, lies the beginning of the solution to the problems present in the public transportation system.

Even if STT were strengthened and was able to reduce power imbalances, there are problems with current regulations. Its role as regulator and contractor of public transportation services carries inherently a conflict of interest. Therefore, the solution begins by strengthening STT but needs the establishment of an independent and strong regulatory body, such as a public transportation commission.

The lack of a proper regulatory environment is affecting the evolution of Transmilenio. Its expansion is hindered by the lack of adequate enforcement of the policies that try to reduce the oversupply of buses. For Transmilenio’s next stages to be feasible, it is necessary to have adequate to policies to curb and reduce oversupply.

The current situation with STT and Transmilenio competing with one another has led to an unstable environment in which neither the Transmilenio operators nor the traditional ones know in which direction the public transportation system will head.


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