Recently I was privileged to be on a study tour to Colombia and Mexico as part of the Government of Guyana’s Sustainable Urban Tran-sport Study (SUTS) for Georgetown, through the Ministry of Public Infrastructure (MPI). The study is directed to institutional strengthening in the form of short tours with a focus on lessons learned and best practices. The tour, for me, provided clarity and a coherence of vision, and in a way gave vocabulary to ideas I could not articulate before. For such an opportunity I am thankful.
The SUTS in general is based on four major action points, namely, Urban Public Transport Improvement Measures; Provision of Public Transport facilities for Minibus Operations within the Central Georgetown Area; Development of a Comprehensive Parking Management Plan for Central Georgetown; and the Development of a Comprehensive Traffic Improvement Programme for Georgetown.
Our overseas engagement brought us into contact with the public transport regulator in Bogotá, Colombia, TransMelenio, and also with the largest bus concession operator, Consorcio Express. In Mexico City we were privileged to connect with the Secretariat of Mobility, similar to MPI, and Metrobús, similar to Colombia’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system and we also engaged with ECOBICI a public bicycle sharing system. Additionally, we had discussions with the World Resource Institute (WRI) and had a networking meeting with the Global Green Growth Institute.
As cities of model mobility, what sets them apart is their mobility hierarchy where the pedestrian has paramountcy of place, followed by cyclists and motorcyclists and then motorists. Underpinning both countries’ systems is the concept of shared city space with, for instance, specific lanes for the BRT and bicycles. Also in place is an integrated mobility management system.
Because the system is integrated, there is a focus on pedestrians as critical shared users of city space. There is a focus on road safety and the consistent improvement of infrastructure; programmes that focus on awareness of how motorists and cyclists are to treat with pedestrians; the pedestrianization of areas, especially those with a high level of economic activity.
Cycling is an integrated part of their mobility policy with rewards built into the system. For example, city government employees who use bicycles to work for a specified period get a certain amount of free bus tickets. Additionally, the city transportation regulator, TransMelenio, is collaborating with the city and other stakeholders to implement bicycle storage areas at critical bus stations.
This is another acknowledgment that many cyclists ride long distances to work because of economic circumstances; they ride from the outskirts, the suburbs, but take the bus for parts of their journey given time and distance. This measure ultimately reduces cost, provides a service and improves the mobility of citizens.
Of critical note here is that cyclists don’t only solve their individual mobility problem but that of others as well; for every person who cycles, one less car is congesting or polluting the city. The same can be said of pedestrians.
Mexico City envisions a city where the pedestrian is the centre of public policy. And it is this public policy which is used to drive change in institutions. Undersecretary for Mobility Laura Ballesteros says, “Change the law to change the vicious cycle, the framework changes and the institution changes.”
In both countries what can be noted as critical is a paradigm shift followed by relevant programmes. For instance, they are not just managing a public transport system but Mexico City is managing 23 million journeys daily of which 5.5 million are by car. The city is adamant that to pull people from their cars to reduce congestion, the roads must be made safer. The city launched its mobility programme in 2014 of which its road safety pedestrian programme is critical, as Mexico City aims to be a pedestrian city. It sees mobility as a right of every citizen and a human right, and envisions 30% car users and 60% users of public transport.
Mexico has a public transport ecosystem built on public and private mobility, with a ‘Vision Zero Accident Agenda’, underpinning its philosophy, ‘No life lost is acceptable.’ The city seeks to limit the number of cars in the city. As against building new roads and parking lots, it seeks to keep out cars with an efficient public transport system. “We have road deaths because the infrastructure is not oriented to pedestrian usage”, according to the Undersecretary.
In both cities the regulator is independent of central and local governments, but its board is made up of members of both, with a 70/30 partnership between central and local government. The system places a high premium on transparency and as such its finances are managed by a separate entity as a Trust from which all expenses are paid.
Mexico City views its alliances with the private sector as critical, and the role that consultation with stakeholders plays cannot be overstated. Police engaged in enforcement are not viewed as traffic agents, but as ‘agents of change,’ and the education programme is geared for long term results.
City officials note that political ideology also plays a role. In Mexico City the Leftists seek to implement subsidies and there is a desire to acquire services cheaply. The Left may also have a focus on equality where everyone gets a car, as against getting the best transport service. Who will pay for it all? “This is the hard work of politics,” they acknowledge, knowing that people will migrate to public transport services because of cost.
Both systems have additional features from which Georgetown can benefit as we seek to cultivate a culture of shared space and sustainable urban transport. The future, they say, will not be in selling cars but selling mobility services ‒ digital services with a relevant framework, budget and planning being important tools to building mobility in an intelligent city which changes the quality of life of citizens.
Sherod Avery Duncan
Councillor, Constituency 14
Municipality of Georgetown