AQ Feature

Making Latin American Cities Better: Transportation

Latin American cities face obstacles in reducing their reliance on cars.
Xinhua/Pedro Mera via Getty Images

This article features commentary on AQ’s Top 5 Urban Visionaries: Aline Cavalcanteand appears in our recent print issue on how to make Latin American cities better places to live and work.

While the number of people who regularly ride bicycles in Latin America has nearly tripled over the past 15 years, we still can’t really talk about a biking revolution. Bikes may be becoming more popular, but less than 4 percent of Latin Americans commute by bike. I don’t think that biking will become mainstream because the region’s transport system continues to be very dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians. Cities are built for cars. Between 2007 and 2017 the number of cars in the region increased by 45 percent to 35.2 million. If Latin American economies grow strongly in the future, we should see more families owning cars, in part because car ownership is being subsidized through low taxes, the construction of infrastructure, and the availability of cheap fuels. This is leading to very high levels of atmospheric pollution. Meanwhile, the cost of using public transport is very high for the poor, who form a large proportion of the population. According to a study by the Development Bank of Latin America, people in the region spend, on average, about 13 percent of their wages on public transport fees. When it comes to the future of bikes as a mode of transport in Latin American metropolises, I’m not very optimistic. Unless there is an energy crisis, I think the car will continue to be the king.

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Consultant for the Brazilian Public Transport Association and a former coordinator of CAF’s urban mobility observatory.

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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.




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