|Public bicycles in Santiago, Chile: Not coming to Bogotá anytime soon.|
The administration of Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, who is known as a bicycle advocate, looked to be in the process of issuing a contract to the Chilean firm which operates the public bicycle system in Chile's capital - until it wasn't.
Santiago's public bicycle system, Bikesantiago, has reportedly generated many complaints about the service's quality and costs. But complaints are inevitable, and Bikesantiago is in fact expanding quickly, suggesting that something is going right. But Bogotá officials concluded that the company didn't fulfill its minimum requirements for a public bicycles contract and canned the deal. (Nevertheless, Bikesantiago is being purchased by a Brazilian company, which presumably will make an offer to operate a Bogotá public bicycles system.) (A Chinese company, Mobike, has also started a dockless public bicycle system in Santiago.)
There's a fundamental problem is Bogotá's multiple and futile attempts at creating a public bike system: the city's refusal to susbsidize the system.
City Councilwoman Maria Fernanda Rojas, of the Alianza Verde Party, expressed it well: "The city's idea of not injecting public money in this project is an error," she said.
She pointed out that Santiago's system, which did not recieve public money, is troubled, while that of Medellin, Colombia, which does operate on public funds, has succeeded.
In fact, all over the world, public bicycle systems either receive public subsidies or have deep-pocketed private sponsors, often banks. In Bogotá, no such private company has stepped forward.
And Bogotá does subsidize other - and highly polluting - transport modes, including huge subsidies in cheap gasoline and free parking for private cars.
Peñalosa's predecesor, Mayor Gustavo Petro, issued a contract for a public bike system which was economically unrealistic and apparently corrupt. It went nowhere.
Bogotá needs to see public bicycles not as a business, but as a benefit for the city, in cleaner air, less traffic congestion and better transport and health for residents.
Meanwhile, this month Cali, Colombia started a modest system with 100 bicycles for university students to get to the express bus stations. That's not much, but it's more than Bogotá has.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours