Bogotá’s city workers have been working late into the night repainting the white lines of the Carrera Séptima and delineating new bus-only lanes for the hybrid, eco vehicles of TransMilenio’s expanding network.
This initiative by Mayor Petro to shuffle up the chaotic mobility issue in the capital has traditionally met with resistance, especially when announcing sudden changes to the existing license plate restriction (Pico y placa) in the downtown core. Now, the attention fo- cuses on the speeding up the time passengers spend in SITP buses along major arteries such as the Carrera Séptima, and the disorganized way the private busetas continue to fight for passen- gers in a so-called “guerra del centavo” (Cent warfare); overtaking in a frenzy and not respecting lane nor car, lead- ing to further congestion and unneces- sary accidents.
As of last month, transit police across the city were stopping cars using the bus-only lanes. Drivers were being warned of soon to be implemented fines and the need to respect the public transit system’s unobstructed mobility. Ac- cording to Bogotá’s Mobility Secretary, María Constanza García, the third lane will allow the hydrid buses to travel an average of 17.5 to 18 kms per hour, instead of the 13 kms per hour they have grown used to. For passengers, extra time saved, is quality time.
TransMilenio is currently training 120 drivers on how to use the car-free lane more effectively. Private vehicles can turn right using the exclusive lane only when the lines are broken and arrows indicate the exact place to move over. The Mobility Secretary also stated that private buses are allowed to use the preferential lane. Car drivers who are caught on camera or by the police after September 6th will face a $308,000 peso fine. According to the General Manager of TransMilenio, Sergio París, cameras will soon be installed in all blue and red buses to take pictures of cars which abuse the lane.
Along with important changes to the way buses move along the Séptima, the mayoralty is also pushing ahead with a network of taxi bays, known as “yellow zones” (zonas amarillas), strategically located near the north-south corridor and between Calles 31 to 100. The bays will be able to accommodate up to six cabs, and allow the fast drop-off of passengers. This beta scheme for cabbies, has already met its share of criticism, as cab drivers insist that passengers want to get dropped-off on their doorstep and not where they have to walk, especially with luggage.
Hosting last month, delegates of Rio+20 and showcasing a transit system which moves two million passengers each day, TransMilenio was praised for its innovation and use of clean energy. Yet, the mass transit system made other headlines around the world recently, after a new police unit was established to deal with the growing problem of groping on buses.
Extreme crowding during peak hours has put women at risk of being touched inappropriately by men. This undercover police squad will travel on the busiest bus routes and concentrate on areas where high levels of abuse have been reported. So while we are gaining speed on ground, we seem to the losing sight of some essential decency with our fellow traveling companions.