Thousands of commuters suffer delays as demonstrations against price hikes and poor service cause near collapse of the TransMilenio system.
The capital’s much-maligned mass transit system, the TransMilenio, faced widespread collapse on Tuesday, March 28 as hundreds of people blocked stations and lanes to express their anger over poor service and the latest rise in ticket prices.
The protests, which centred in the far south and northwest of the city, caused problems across the whole system with people facing delays of over an hour. Hundreds of thousands of commuters were affected as twenty stations were closed throughout the morning.
According to the TransMilenio authorities, 24 vehicles were damaged including 17 buses left with broken windows. They said normal service was resumed across the network by 2pm.
The chaos began at 4.10am, 20 minutes prior to the start of service, when dozens of users began protesting by blocking the TransMilenio carriageways at León XIII and San Mateo in the neighbouring municipality of Soacha.
In the northwest of the city, at Portal 80 in Engativá, the routes were blocked from 7am, causing that section of the system to collapse.
Many protested peacefully by sitting on the carriageway with placards, but by mid-morning the atmosphere in Soacha had turned violent. At 10am the ESMAD riot police arrived on the scene to facilitate the movement of buses, provoking fights with encapuchados who threw sticks and rocks.
The Fiscalía announced that those who block the system or attack buses will be prosecuted and that hundreds of police will be deployed in the future to prevent disruption of this kind the next time prices go up.
Soacha mayor Eleázar González has been campaigning against the rise in prices, arguing that many of his constituents already have to pay for other modes of transport to get to the TransMilenio stations.
He also complains that his municipality is not receiving funds to maintain the system’s stations and carriageways in the area. “Soacha cannot be the victim of this dreadful service […] we demand that the government take measures to correct the problem” he tweeted.
Why were they protesting?
The protests were sparked by the annual rise in prices, combined with frustration over a shortage of buses, delays and logistical problems.
The April 1 price hike has caused much anger. Prices on SITP buses rose from COP$1,700 to COP$2,000 and from COP$2,000 to COP$2,200 on the TransMilenio. A month’s worth of journeys to and from work could now cost about an eighth of the minimum salary, though there are discounts for low-income users.
The mayor’s office says the price hikes are needed to reduce the network’s deficit and that the new cash means “the system will have the resources necessary for improvements to the service.”
There’s also a change to the transfer window. Passengers will now have 95 minutes (instead of 75) to move between TransMilenio and SITP services. Administrators say this will benefit the large number of users from lower economic strata who make these transfers.
By Christopher Outlaw