August 15, 2012

ITDP Argentina Calls on Buenos Aires to Improve Transit in Response to Subway Strike

By Andrés Fingeret, ITDP Argentina Director

62. Buenos_Aires_strike

On Tuesday, subways finally began rolling again in Buenos Aires after a massive, 10-day strike that had over a million commuters waiting, sometimes hours, for overcrowded buses. The suspension of the strike is part of a tentative deal by union leaders. The system’s operator, Metrovias, has agreed to a smaller pay increase than the 28 percent the union asked for to keep up with Argentina’s inflation, and the outcome still depends on an unresolved power struggle between the mayor and the president. The strike has created major chaos in a city that is already straining to keep up with transit demand, and our ITDP Argentina was asked to weight in with an opinion column which was published in the print version of La Nación newspaper.

The original article (in Spanish):

When you ask how to reduce the impact of the conflict generated by the current subway strike, I imagine an ideal city: a few private cars, some trucks carrying goods, an excellent bus service with dedicated lanes, trains with the perfect punctuality of the Swiss, and a beautiful and extensive network of bikeways and pedestrian trails.

The basis of this conflict is not just about the malfunction of the subway or the chaos created by the strike, who takes over its maintenance or quarrels between our political leaders. Today’s problems put in evidence the enormous deficiency of our administration to face a short and medium-term planning in sustainable transport. The framework for a real solution is more complex and requires genuine political will to create long-term change. This lack of vision means that as the political rhetoric heats up, those left in the middle, the people of the city, lose.

The growth of Buenos Aires in recent decades was not met with the holistic vision of mobility that the city needed. As a result, private cars won the battle for the right to street space, and most of the city’s resources were devoted to car-oriented development at the expense of other, more inclusive transit options. For years, cars enjoyed a tremendous amount of benefits, so much that the streets are at their limit and cannot support any more, and now we find ourselves in our current situation. Instead of discussing whether or not to widen the General Paz highway, we should be thinking about how we can use those resources to improve public transport instead. Just as buying bigger and bigger clothes is not the solution to obesity; the problem of traffic chaos cannot be fought with more and wider streets. The real solution to obesity is hard work, it takes diet and physical activity, just like reducing the flow of cars and optimizing the use of public space takes real, dedicated investments and the political will for change.

We in Buenos Aires should use this crisis of mobility generated by the subway strike to think differently about how to get around our city. The goal of a successful sustainable transport policy should be to prioritize the needs of the masses and less fortunate who, in our current situation, are once again are being hit the hardest.


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