Transportation in Transition

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Latin America Desk

Written by: Marianna Sierra, Yale College ’23

With a ground area of just over 1,000 square miles, Peru’s capital has one of the highest population densities in all of the Americas. Though it has historically been the most populated city in the country, Peru’s most recent census reports a population nearing 9 million inhabitants, lending Lima to a population density of about 7000 people per mile[1]. Amongst the host of problems the city currently faces because of its rapidly increasing population— primarily the result of domestic immigration from less developed provinces and foreign immigration from a continuously crippling Venezuela— the most noticeable problem is the traffic. 

More people in the city means more cars, yet the land has stayed the same for the past century. Lima’s traffic congestion is one of the worst in the world, coming third only to Mumbai and Bogota[2], according to data collected by TomTom. A majority of traffic congestion, however, comes from an abundance of privately-owned vans and buses that serve as public transport and circulate all throughout the city. These vans and buses often determine the flow of traffic— mainly because of their sheer size and omnipresence— and play by their own rules. It’s not uncommon to see a bus making a right turn from the left lane, or stopping in the middle of an intersection, as they try to inch ahead. 

Considering the detrimental impacts Lima’s traffic crisis has had on sound and air quality and pedestrian safety, the city has experimented new methods in search of a solution. Beginning in July, city officials began a pilot program aimed at reducing traffic on essential freeways where cars with license plates ending in even numbers could only drive on Mondays and Wednesdays, and those with uneven license plates could only drive on Tuesdays and Thursdays— Fridays and weekends were not included in the policy. Considering that the worst traffic congestion occurs between 7-9 am and 5-9 pm, the initiative proved promising albeit inconvenient. Vans and buses used for public transport were excluded from this policy, which allowed them to circulate all days of the week. After months of trial, this has been central in identifying the roots of Lima’s excessive traffic.

Despite the inconvenient traffic maneuver, congestion barely went down in the few months of its implementation, largely because of the presence of vans and buses not owned by the state. In response to this, María Jara was appointed as the new head of the Urban Transport Department (ATU). The ATU is a branch of the Transport and Communication Ministry and deals with the transport of state and privately-owned buses, the Metro, and taxis[3]. Jara recently announced that within the next year and a half, privately-owned vans and buses used for public transportation may cease to exist, citing their inadequate adherence to safety standards, their environmental contamination, and their reluctance to formalize into a more integrated form of transport[4].

With the potential eradication of these buses and vans comes an immediate need for an alternative system of transport, which Jara has yet to put forth. Hundreds of thousands of people rely on these vans and buses as their main form of transportation, particularly because they are cheap and quick, in spite of the flagrant safety hazards they present to both passengers and pedestrians. A more robust state-sponsored option must be brought to the table to effectively contain Lima’s vehicular chaos. Without such an option, getting rid of these buses and vans will never be more than a wishful dream.  

Works Cited

[1] “Lima Population 2019.” World Population Review, August 28, 2018.

[2] “Lima – the Third Worst Congested City in the World.” PeruTelegraph, June 5, 2019.

[3] Mulera, Redacción. “María Jara Es La Nueva Jefa De La Autoridad De Transporte Urbano Para Lima y

Callao.” LaMula, October 17, 2019.

[4] Mulera, Redacción. “Nueva Jefa De La ATU Dice Que Las Combis Podrían Desaparecer De Lima y

Callao En Un Año y Medio.” LaMula, October 20, 2019.