When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

EL ESPECTADOR

The Revolution Colombia Really Needs: Free Buses

It may seem like a pipe dream. And it would certainly cost a lot, especially in a large capital city like Bogotá. But providing fare-free public transport could also be transformative.

On the streets of Bogota
On the streets of Bogota
Andrés Hoyos

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — I am one of those people who abandoned their dreams of revolution a while back, so I don't use the word lightly. And yet, here I am pushing an idea that truly is revolutionary. It's also a feasible idea, albeit a very expensive one that would require the Colombian state and local government to effectively and at the very least, bring in taxes worth 20% of the GDP, and in time 25 or 30%.

Truth be told, I didn't come up with the idea on my own. It comes from a chat group whose members place themselves at the political center. People who are neither revolutionaries nor right-wing conservatives.

Our chat group, which included the late economist and former finance minister Guillermo Perry, takes an interest in social and political problems. And in response to the unrest that began here on Nov. 21 last year, we thought of exploring ideas outside the box — ideas, in other words, that don't perpetuate the traditional timidity that tends to characterize policy decisions here but that Colombians are now rebelling against.

That's how the issue of free public transportation came up. It's a subject that has already been explored elsewhere in the world, and in our discussion, we agreed that it's important to be careful with the terminology: Rather thanto talk about "free buses' we decided that a term like Tarifa 0 (Zero Fare) would be better.

It would also seem wise, at first glance, to implement such a program first in small to mid-sized cities, not in a major capital. Except in the case of Colombia, our biggest city, Bogotá, is where agitation is most intense, and so some of us in the group changed our minds in that regard.

There's still the cost issue, however. So how much are we really talking about? A transport expert in our group gave an off-the-cuff figure of nearly $1 billion a year for Bogotá alone.

We are already paying transportation subsidies worth about $234 million, so we would have to add at least three times that amount, or roughly 0.3% of our GDP. And because the Zero Fare program would cost more per user in smaller cities given the dispersion of routes, our chatroom calculation puts the cost of the project for the entire country at about $4 billion per year, or about 1.2% of the GDP.

Would there be overflowing demand?

Subsidies are dangerous, especially when they offer a lifestyle that allows one to survive more or less without working. The transport subsidy would ease people's cashflow situation without really augmenting their revenues. Who should pay for Zero Fare? Those who benefit from our current inequality: the wealthiest sectors, but also the middle class.

Shared financing is a possibility too. Half the cost could be covered by city tolls and vehicle taxes, which would be higher for cars but substantial too for motorbikes. The other half would be paid for with general taxes. Would there be overflowing demand? Yes, though perhaps not as much as might be feared, because free or not, taking the bus is neither a sport nor entertaining.

Quality is a crucial variable here because any increase in demand would hasten the wear and tear on transport units, but even here, there is no reason why this cannot be addressed in the medium to long term. Should the public or private sector run the system? Both are possibilities, provided there is accountability, as the Anglo-Americans would say.

Operators will not mind who pays them, as long as they are paid. And quality controls can be the same, whatever the management model. The big questions are still how to finance Zero Fare transport, and which things the state would NOT do.

All of those things are open to debate, but at least let's start having a real discussion.

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Society

How Iran's Women-Led Protests Have Exposed The 'Islamist Racket' Everywhere

By defending their fundamental rights, Iranian women are effectively fighting for the rights of all in the Middle East. Their victory could spell an end to Islamic fundamentalism that spouts lies about "family values" and religion.

Protests like this in Barcelona have been sparked all over the world to protest the Tehran regime.

Davide Bonaldo/SOPA Images via ZUMA
Kayhan London

-Editorial-

Iran's narrow-minded, rigid and destructive rulers have ruined the lives of so many Iranians, to the point of forcing a portion of the population to sporadically rise up in the hope of forcing changes. Each time, the regime's bloody repression forces Iranians back into silent resignation as they await another chance, when a bigger and bolder wave of protests will return to batter the ramparts of dictatorship.

It may just be possible that this time, in spite of the bloodshed, a bankrupt regime could finally succumb to the latest wave of protests, sparked by the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of the so-called "morality police."

Women have always played a role in the social and political developments of modern Iran, thanks in part to 50 years of secular monarchy before the Iranian Revolution of 1979. And that role became the chief target of reaction when it gained, or regained, power in the early days of 1979, after a revolution replaced the monarchy with a self-styled Islamic republic.

Whether it was women's attire and appearance, or their rights and opportunities in education and work, access to political and public life or juridical and civil rights — all these became intolerable to the new clerical authorities.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ