Santiago’s smart efforts to fight air pollution

A few months ago, for the needs of our graduate course on Smart Cities, our Professor Betty Tsakarestou challenged us to explore the globe and find out what makes a city sustainable, smart or simply better for its habitants to live in. Our team (Christina Charalampidou, Marieta Christopoulou and Effie Tzoumani) chose Latin America to focus on and here are some of our favorite City Stories: Medellín, Santiago and Rio de Janeiro.

Santiago, Chile

The air pollution is one of the most significant problems that the cities have to deal with nowadays and Santiago shows the smart way.

The biggest city and the capital of Chile, has more than 5 million population and a serious problem of air pollution mainly due to geographical factors and atmospheric conditions. It is situated in a valley in the middle of a couple of mountains such as Andes, therefore the pollution is trapped.

In the 90s and early 00s, the most initiatives against this problem had to do with restrictions. Legislative measures were imposed in order to reduce industrial pollution as well as vehicle restrictions on cars.

The first steps of the reform

But it was more than evident, that this wasn’t the right way so the attention began to drop in public transportaion. In 2000, the Government published the 2000–2010 Santiago Urban Transport Plan wich envisaged the transformation of the public transport system, beginning with buses.

From 1982, anyone could operate a public transport business without a previous permission from the State. Each operator established his own route and could change it whenever they wanted to. In this competitive environment, the best service wasn’t the main goal; it was more a haunt of passengers that were waiting on the street. This model drove to oversized and overaged bus fleet, excessive fares in relation to costs, badly maintained buses, high levels of emission of pollutants, and a high degree of user dissatisfaction.

Bus line, Santiago

So, action was needed. The old buses were setted off the road with federal laws and in Santiago were circulating 750–550 less busses per hour. The passengers went up from around 300 to 500 or 600 per day, and the profitability was improved. In 2000, the Santiago Urban Transport Plan continued on this route and ameliorized the system focusing on enviromental friendly vehicles and organized function.

At the same period, the goverment announced the expansion of Metro and in late 00s the plan “Transadiago”, which is is considered the most ambitious transport reform undertaken by a developing country according to the World Resources Institute, arrived.


Transadiago was introduced on February 10, 2007.The main objectives of the reform was to encourage the use of public transport, enhance the quality of buses and Metro and reduce the emission level of the buses as well as the travel times. No change is easy; the reform was discussed intensively in political debates.

Except from the better vehicles and routes, Τransadiago imposed a new age payment system wich is a contactless smart cart called Tarjeta Bip! similar to the Multivia card, which was previously operated by the metro. This card is used both in buses and metro as a prepaid card.

As for the Metro is concerned, nowadays it is considered as one of the most modern in Latin America and is the second largest following the Mexico City Metro. It is administered by the state-owned Metro S.A. and is 7th in frequency worldwide, carrying around 2.5 million passengers every day. It also incorporates a number of works of Art in the design of its stations.

Universidad de Chile

At the same time…

So, as for the public transportations, Santiago has done great and smart efforts the last 20 years focusing on better Metro and buses, wishing that a better system would lead inhabitants to use less their cars and travel faster within the city.

But in order to become a “smart city” this isn’t enough. In 2014, the governor of Chile’s Metropolitan region, Claudio Orrego, has signed an aggrement with Cisco Sytems so as “to explore mechanisms to convert capital Santiago into a smart city” according to a release. Electronic information panels at bus stops, implementation of smart homes with domotic systems, solar water heating, digitizing the lights and power levels in government buildings to adjust to to demand levels, are amognst the goals of the project that aims to a better quality of life.

A lot left to do

The air pollution battle is still ongoing in Santiago. Despite the serious efforts, the problem remains and in certain months of the year becomes huge. It was in June 2015, when extremely high level of air pollution in Santiago has forced authorities to declare a state of environmental emergency in the Santiago metropolitan area. The emergency measures, forced more than 900 industries to temporarily shut down and about 40 percent of the capital’s 1.7 million cars off the roads, were the first since 1999, according to media reports.

Nevertheless, Santiago is according to MERCER ranking (2016), amongst the highest ranking cities in South America, for quality of living. That means that even if it struggles against the “air”, it has managed to evaluate and make its inhabitants lifes better and smarter.

See our presentation for Latin America here.

You can also follow our journey on European Smart Cities: Berlin, Lisbon, Barcelona and Istanbul.

Like what you read? Give Marieta Christopoulou a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.