polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Is Underground Transport Worth the Cost?

by Jordi Sánchez-Cuenca

Most cities around the world are growing at a hardly manageable speed. One of the most challenging issues is urban mobility, which becomes a nightmare when growth has taken place without adequate planning or public transport. The main aggravating factor is that most urbanites get a car as soon as the family budget allows it. Then they have to choose between slow, cramped public transport or driving in routine traffic jams. The increasingly individualistic character of mainstream urban societies favors the private car in spite of the psychological, social and environmental damage that derives from traffic jams. Driving one's own car also contributes to social status for many people.

In Quito, Ecuador, as in many Latin American cities, the number of cars increases by 15 percent annually, which means 50,000 more cars every year in the same streets. The fast-growing middle class does not see the current public transport system as an honorable option. Quito's mayor has opted for the underground train as the long-term solution to this problem. This project will cost $1.4 billion, and construction will bgin next year. Considering that the minimum wage in Ecuador is $264 per month, many have considered this project an excessive investment. Moreover, many argue that the problem could be solved at a reasonable cost with an integrated, fast and good-quality bus and bicycle system. This would require changing current cultural patterns, including the relationship between private cars and social status.

One positive aspect of the underground train project is the cost of the ticket ($0.40), which will be subsidized in order to make the new service affordable for most citizens. This subsidy will add to the annual payment of the credit given for its construction, but it can be considered a wealth redistribution measure rather than an additional project cost. This is not the case in some other Latin American underground transport systems, such as Rio de Janeiro's, where the cheapest one-way ticket costs $1.64, a largely unaffordable price considering that the minimum wage in Brazil is $275 per month.

Credits: Photos linked to source.

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