Chaos in the Streets

When you stand there, in the middle of a Javier Prado bus stop and just let yourself absorb the senses of the atmosphere, you’ll feel it’s grey, cold and emotionless. You first notice an avalanche of hurried individuals that raced from the sidewalk to overflow a vehicle that was already overflowing with people. Then, you notice the quality of the buses, which seem they are at least 10 years old and look like they haven’t been maintained not even once. Rust covers the casing of the bus and seats are just sponges with holes, but this is nothing compared to the black and dense gases that are emitted from the exhaust hole that give the air a toxic, unbreathable scent. And when the bus finally leaves, it doesn’t go very far, as it gets stuck in the never ending lines of cars.

Why so many people? Why buses of such low quality? Why the unpleasant air? Why so much chaos? These are all the questions that might have popped up in your head, as it is indeed shocking to see so many people depend on the bad quality and chaotic public transportation that Lima has to offer. Obviously, this public transportation system is not working efficiently nor effectively. To understand this, we must go way back to the 19th century, a time of much development in Peru.

You see, at this time Peru was very rich, this caused a massive civil growth and people started to urbanize more and more the outskirts of Lima. This was one of the worst errors this city could have committed because Lima was suddenly huge and all the commercial areas and workplaces were left at the center of it, which meant that everybody needed to move from the outskirts, to the center mostly every day. Lima grew like this all the way until the 19th century and the result was that there was a massive city with lot’s of people that had to move to one same spot. How can they be moved? Well, all the formal public transportation only moved around the center of Lima and didn’t reach the outskirts. Therefore, the only solution that was left was to use lots of buses in order to reach all the corners of Lima, but the government couldn’t provide so many buses (about 30 thousand), therefore they turned to “private companies”, and this was another mistake.

These “private companies” started to operate with very little governmental guidance and vigilance and soon became what they are known today as “ghost companies”. They take on this name because it is unclear who leads them, who controls them or how they operate. Although some might think these are informal companies, it turns out that they do have a small level of formality because they bought the route to the government and are registered as real companies, but in reality, once inside the company, they work informally because the drivers don’t receive a minimum wage, nor pay taxes and the company is careless for the maintenance of the buses. Today, about 80% of Lima’s population depends on these companies and some of them include Sol y Mar, 22, Metrovias Express, Etrancisa, Star Tours, CTI and the worst of them, Orion. Orion is a company with 4,383 penalty fees that add up to about 7 million soles and has very recently changed its name to HRE because Orion was banned from the streets. In unison, all these companies penalty fees add up to about 30 million soles.

To understand more in depth how outrageous Lima’s public transportation system is, due to these ghost companies, this situation must be analyzed in a social, environmental and economical way. Starting with the environmental impacts, it is a fact (taken from CleanTechnica) that an average, newly bought bus emits 121 kg of CO2 per 100km, while a 5 year old bus emits 3 times more CO2. Keep in mind that Lima has about 35 thousand buses and about 90% are at least 5 years old, which means that the total CO2 emission is very high.

Regarding the social impacts, we can see Lima’s citizens get affected in two ways, but to understand these we must understand why they occur. As stated before, the drivers of these ghost companies don’t receive a minimum wage and they live with what they earn in a day of driving, which means that they would do anything to get as much passengers as they can. This means citizen security is put at risk and traffic is immensely increased. For the first cause, it is very rare to see a bus that actually respects the passenger limit of a bus and this is very dangerous, specially when the driver is going at high speeds in order to catch a light (as can be seen in the brutal video of a combi crashing into a man in Surco in the link below). Secondly, combis don’t respect the bus stops, they just stop wherever they want to pickup a passenger, which affects traffic enormously. Different drivers even fight for their bus stops (as can be seen in this video of two men fighting for a bus stop in the link below). Citizen security is of last priority for the bus drivers. They only drive to get enough money to live.

“Paradero Prohibido” means: Prohibited bus stop.

Moving on to the economical impacts, it must be very clear by now the massive expenses that these companies create. As it was stated before, about 30 million soles are owed to the government because these companies don’t pay their penalties. Looking for the solutions to this problem isn’t cheap either, because the government would have to replace 30 thousand buses with new ones (if they are planning on eliminating the ghost companies) and, on the other hand, the implementation of constructions like the electric train cost about 100 million soles to build.

As it is, there is no doubt that ghost companies are a poison for Lima, but they are also needed to be able to suffice the demand of the people with supply, something the government can’t provide as of yet because of how expensive it is. Although this problem is being trying to be solved by the government, this change will occur slowly because they can’t take all the buses out of the streets from one day to another, but the government is making little changes that will eventually solve this problem. For example, with the integration of the electric train, the Metropolitano and the Corredor Azul, the government is slowly prioritizing these effective ways of public transportation that will eventually substitute the combis in the streets.

Lima has thousands of problems, and public transportation is one of them. With this problem in it’s tail, Lima can’t move forward nor progress into the future. As things are now, Lima can go in two directions. One being that after twenty years this issue hasn’t being solved and the streets become more and more chaotic. Or, two, that this problem does get solved and the streets flow without problem. Either way, it would be interesting to see how the same Javier Prado bus stop feels like in twenty years.

1Video of combi crashing into a man:

2Video of drivers fighting:

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