Peñalosa vs. Petro: The Metro

By bogotapost December 14, 2015

Metro BogotáMike Mackenna breaks down Bogotá Mayor-Elect Enrique Peñalosa and outgoing Bogotá Mayor Gustavo Petro’s most recent public spat, over the Bogotá metro construction project

Bogotá residents should get used to Enrique Peñalosa and Gustavo Petro battling it out over the many issues they disagree on. They have a history of verbal jousting that reveals their political disagreements: Peñalosa thinks Petro’s plans for Bogotá are unrealistic and that, as mayor, Petro has accomplished little of what he promised. Petro thinks Peñalosa’s plans for the city will damage the environment and neglect the capital’s most vulnerable residents.  Even though Petro will leave the mayor’s office in January, he is already planning a presidential run in 2018, so we can expect him to stay in the public eye for at least the next few years.

Recently, the two openly disagreed over the country’s most important infrastructure project, the metro. The national government suspended the contracting and planning process while they figure out what changes will be necessary to implement Peñalosa’s proposal to elevate some of the metro. Petro had planned a 100% underground metro.

So what exactly happened? And who won this round?

Gustavo Petro
Enrique Peñalosa
What he said:

– “Bogotá should not allow their metro to be taken away.”

– “That’s eight years of work that…. [Peñalosa] is throwing in the bin.”

– “Peñalosa cancelled the metro contracting process, and lowered its quality, so he could build more of the Transmilenio.”

“He who doesn’t know history is condemned to repeat it, the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”

(Referring to the fact that in Peñalosa’s first mayoral administration, from 1998-2000, he didn’t build the metro that was planned)

What he said:

– “As we said in the campaign, we will build a metro that serves Bogotá, without politics, without emotional pressure, and with responsibility.”

– “We will use every cent [of the COP $9.6 billion for the metro from the national government] for mass public transport in Bogotá.”

– “It’s not only a technical or managerial decision, but also a voter mandate, to revise the project so that we can take full advantage of the money we have to build mass transit in Bogotá.”

– “There will be no delay. We can build an elevated metro in two years.”

– “An elevated metro will cost 20% less.”

Why believe him?

He has seen through the engineering and financing process for the metro, and has been committed to the metro throughout his administration.

Peñalosa did say that he wanted to use some of the metro money to expand the Transmilenio, so Petro is at least partly right about that.

Why believe him?

Building the metro was one of Peñalosa’s campaign promises.  President Juan Manuel Santos wants to leave the Bogotá metro as his legacy for the capital.  The mayor-elect also has the support of Vice President German Vargas Lleras, who is in charge of the country’s infrastructure projects, and is likely banking on his reputation as an infrastructure builder to win the presidency in 2018

Why doubt him?

There are no independent experts, or at least none quoted in the publications I consulted, who agree with Petro’s assertions that Peñalosa is discarding eight years of work. The only people publicly backing Petro work, or used to work, for his administration.

Independent experts from the National University of Colombia and the foundation Ciudad Humana predict that Peñalosa can complete the studies and contracting in 18 months, meaning construction can start in 2017, as planned.

Why doubt him?

Peñalosa did not, as Petro reminded us, build the metro when he was mayor from 1998-2000, even though it was planned. As recently as December 2014, he questioned the wisdom of building the metro, and claimed that his pet project, the Transmilenio, basically served the same purpose.

The National Development Fund has said there is a “lack of definition” of Peñalosa’s plan, and there are no studies done for the costs of an elevated metro, making it impossible to evaluate Peñalosa’s claims about reduced costs.

The winner?

Peñalosa. Though there is good reason to doubt his philosophical commitment to the metro, with the independent experts and the country’s two most powerful politicians lined up behind him, it is difficult to see what Peñalosa would gain from not building the metro. Public transportation was one of the primary concerns of Bogotanos before the October elections, and Peñalosa would surely take a significant hit to his credibility and his ability to govern if he went back on his metro promise.

By Mike Mackenna