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TransMetro set to end chaotic
commuting in Guatemala City

By Vanessa Plihal, Central America Correspondent

16 June 2007: For Guatemala City’s commuters public transport is in a state of crisis, with daily rampant crimes committed against them inside and outside the city’s antiquated buses. Recklessness by bus drivers adds to the problem. But hopefully, things are set to change.

Guatemalans commute everyday from nearby municipalities and other urban areas to the capital city for their daily activities. Around 68 per cent of them use public transport. The rest have private means. Public transport in the city has been a long and lasting problem. Now, Guatemala City authorities are trying to alleviate the crisis – which it undoubtedly is.

The usual means of public transport are old American school buses, which are slow, dangerous and uncomfortable. Law-abiding citizens are victims of daily attacks as well as reckless driving. The increasing cost of oil, most of which is imported, has added to operational costs. This only adds to the problem.

Guatemala has a total population of 12 million, of which 25 per cent live in the metropolitan area. There is an annual increase of 2.6 per cent in population. Some 68 per cent of the 1.7 million citizens who live in or commute to the city, of necessity use its inefficient public transport

Now the Municipality of Guatemala has begun operating the first TransMetro station - the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system used successfully in many other developing countries. This first station is located at Calzada Aguilar Batres, one of the busiest-travelled arteries of the city.

The Calzada Aguilar Batres station “CENTRA” is designed to move almost 9,000 persons an hour, guaranteeing an efficient boarding process of 2.5 persons per second, with 14 different ground stations. The TransMetro project consists of eight principal routes with a total of 95 kilometres distributed around the city’s principal arteries. Because of its size, a great deal of time and money will be required to complete the construction. Consolidation is expected by 2015 and finalisation by 2020. 

The Bus Rapid Transit system is intended to work quickly and efficiently, with exclusive lanes that reduce both fuel pollution and travelling time. It involves easy to board high quality vehicles operating from well-designed and equipped stations with the latest technology. When prepay fares are introduced there will be even greater efficiency, especially in boarding times. TransMetro is already proving to be successful. It is based upon an operating plan that embraces properly thought out route structure, efficient service, frequency, safety, station spacing and integration with other transportation services.

Since public transport in Guatemala has always been both inefficient and dangerous, those with private transport have not previously considered it as an option. But now, with ever-increasing traffic and high oil prices, Guatemalans are thinking again. They realise that by using the Transmetro during the week they can reduce daily travelling time by as much as 35 per cent – and reduce stress and save money.

The system offers rapid buses every five minutes from 14 different stations, as well as transport integration and the protection of municipal police. Conventional public transportation daily discriminates against the handicapped, children and the elderly – particularly at boarding and alighting points.  With TransMetro, every bus entrance is designed to correspond with the same level as the ground station, making it easier for boarding. There are special spaces inside buses for those with wheel chairs as well as assistance from municipal guides for those who need it.

...colourful but uncomfortablde old American school buses

Also by Vanessa Plihal
Guatemala City authorities push for environmentally responsible growth
After the devastating earthquake of 1773, Guatemala City was relocated to where it is today. In 1776, after an arduous task of rebuilding, the new city was founded and dedicated to the Virgin of Asunción. Guatemala de La Asunción, or “Guate” as the locals call it, is a city where the past and the future meet in equilibrium. Today Guatemala City is the largest and fastest growing city in Central America and one determined to avoid past planning mistakes.

The statistical reports from the last population census, published in 2002, show that 1.7 million Guatemalans live and work in the city. This census includes the people of the three other nearby municipalities who commute to the City of Guatemala for various purposes.

As the country’s population grows at an annual rate of 2.6 per cent, so does the need for living and working space. The result is an environment greatly affected by both gasoline emissions and migration from the rural and suburban areas. Over the past 12 years, the living spatial area has grown at a rate of 4 per cent annually (2002 population census report).

In relation to residential and commercial areas, it is obviously necessary for growth to be planned in an orderly fashion. The Territorial Urban Plan seeks to undertake construction both efficiently and equitably, paving the way towards a ‘win-win’ situation for investors, the community and the environment. This plan will prevent construction in high-risk areas and avoid damage both to the environment and social cohesion. The urban plan will come into effect in the ensuing months and will endeavour to involve the participation of most neighbourhoods, regardless of size or location. The essential objective is to create more pleasant spaces in which to live and work. More