Can anyone imagine a transportation system reforms, based on the assumption that it will work with fewer but bigger busses ?.Can anyone imagine a transportation system heavily dependent on the subway transportation, without increasing the frequency of the trains?. The questions are long enough to get mad to daily commuters .But, those are some of the assumptions which the new public transportation system in Santiago (Chile)was based upon. What went wrong ?,asked the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/) on Tuesday, November 13th .
It is not the first time in Latin America , that a reform on public transportation system is attempted .to carry out. Brazil and Colombia have also tried this reforms in the past, with apparently good results. In the Chilean case, it was a huge effort without precedent, to implement a public transportation system based on a modern concept of environment friendly ,and likeable to commuters .
For many years the old transportation system was on the spot because of a lot of reasons :Pollution, dangerous operational conditions, uncomfortable for commuters needs, which all add up to negative externalities But even with its externalities it worked ,although not that much up to commuters expectations .The new system ,have solved the externalities ,but it does not work as expected !.How come ?. It does not work , because the assumption upon which the whole system was built up, were wrong.
Let take a brief review of some of the key assumption:
a.- Local Subway system, worked for years with less than two and half passengers by square meter .It was one of the cleanest ,nicest and secure transportation system in Latin America. It was assumed that taking as a benchmark the way Japanese did with their own subway; Chilean subway was able to increase the density ratio up to seven passenger by square meter. Therefore ,there was room for increasing the density ratio such as it reduced the sunk cost of idle capacity. The result : The system collapsed and there is no way to use the subway on rush hours (early morning and early evening), because it crowed out.-
b.- How much cash was it needed for the proper implementation, of the new public transportation plan ?.There is an unwritten rule which says that any public plan , whatever it might be, always requires more financial resources than expected . Therefore ,the current cost (roughly U$$800 million),is well above the original budget. Actually there is a discussion going on in the legislature, asking for more than U$$150 million for the year 2008 as an additional supplement .However, the House of representatives, approved symbolically only U$$ 2 !,while it is not clear the way those resources are going to be spent.-
c.- Santiago city is not Madrid ,or New York. It lack the necessary infrastructure to implement a transportation network, the way it works in those cities. Madrid has a kind of ring which surround the city, allowing to get access to down town from any point following straight lines. New York is a huge square, fitted into the Manhattan island, which allow commuters to move either way south or north, west or east in a shorter period of time. In both cases, no matter where you are going, you know where you are. Santiago has grown without a detailed urban path ,some places are like a square(downtown) ,but another are like a circle. Therefore the routes are not straight lines, in fact a recent poll indicates that the current plan, has increased by 11 minutes the time it requires to commuters to move form one point to another. Besides they have to wait on bus stop by 15 minutes, before it pass by. However, all those previous negative externalities it had , qualifies positively.