May 2011

Thoughts about the road traffic in Cochabamba

(from the point of view of a pedestrian)

A foreigner’s take on the often chaotic and confusing transport system of the city, as seen by Alberto Carniel.

Alberto Carniel
Projects Abroad volunteer
Sacile - Italy

I come from Italy, and I believed that I had seen some of the worst road traffic in the world. However, I see that our drivers would still be able to learn something here about road indiscipline. Since here in Bolivia I am only a poor pedestrian, this increases a lot of the problems, and it makes you much less sympathetic towards the local drivers, as well as underlining the real or potential dangers. After a week’s experience, and before I become accustomed to the local traffic, I will write the following impressions as they appeared to me (and threatened my safety as a pedestrian).

The public transport system is ingenious, and does not really have an equivalent in any European country, as far as flexibility and convenience for the user is concerned: - Taxi Car with the insignia of the company and driver (5 to 7 Bs in the center of the town).

Whenever the traffic lights turn green, all the drivers press their horns to try to make the traffic move faster.

- Taxi Trufi Car with three rows of seats, a number on the roof and a fixed route (1.7 Bs) - Trufi Van, normally a Volkswagen type, with a number on the roof and fixed route ( 1.7 Bs) - Micro Small bus with 25 seats, and a very colorful exterior, with destinations further away from the city center.

    1. No one wears a seat belt.
    2. The traffic lights’ change from yellow to red very fast (less than a second), which makes it difficult to judge crossing times. This is made worse by poor car control, since drivers often do not stop in time, and drive through red lights.
    3. The traffic lights are so high up that they are only visible to drivers, and pedestrians have to guess when the lights change.
    4. There is no respect for the zebra crossings: on the contrary, you get the impression that the drivers accelerate in an attempt to run you over.
    5. Cars and minibuses stop at red traffic lights with their wheels covering the zebra crossings.,/
    6. If the road is clear of traffic (pedestrians do not count), the red light is not respected at all: it is considered optional.
    7. Whenever the traffic lights turn green, all the drivers press their horns to try to make the traffic move faster.
    8. The car park consists of huge SUVs and antiquated, shabby cars.
    9. It is good that the cars run on gas: there is no black smoke and less smog.
    10. The sidewalks on many streets have become a battlefield because tree roots have raised the pavement.

I can confirm that the system works on a day to day basis. The system is totally private and therefore there is no cost for the municipality. You raise an arm to stop the car, and are then transported wherever you want at any moment, for a very low price. It is worth mentioning that the frequency of the public cars is high, and therefore waiting times are very short.

There are some disadvantages: - Usually you get in and out of the car with great difficulty (except for taxis), and therefore this kind of transport is unsuitable for those find it hard to writhe and wriggle between tightly packed bodies. - The cars are often almost full, due to the amount of passengers. - You get out of micros and trufis in the middle of the road, so you need to be careful not to be hit by other road users. - You pay at the end of the journey, and often the driver does not have the right change, so then your journey ends up costing a bit more. - As all the transport is under individual private management, you cannot get a subscription or season ticket valid for all your journeys in the city, or any other discounts, and you always have to pay cash. Hopefully, in few weeks I will be completely integrated, and I will admire the cleverness and the dexterity of the “choferes” of Cochabamba. When l return to Italy and get back behind the wheel of my car, I will show the Italians what it means to behave with acumen and cunning in the road traffic… and life will get much worse for the pedestrians of my city.

A Rebellious Space: The Folk Penas

Once the crops are in place it is time to think of the future. The plants will be extracting nutrients and a continuous cycle of growing crops will eventually deplete the soil. Chemical fertilizer adds a rapid shot of nutrients, but also kills microorganisms and leaves you with an impoverished soil in the long run. You can buy organic fertilizer but you can easily make it yourself from material that is thrown away. La Peña was an alternative and anti-establishment space of the youth from the1960s until the 80s, decades dominated by the military governments. A private and popular place, created an atmosphere that forested solo artists and musical groups who wrote and performed protest songs, social singing, autochthonous, folklore, neo-folklore forms of music at the centre podium, particularly on weekend evenings. They were massively attended by university students, intellectuals and tourists (gringos).

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