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A rapid transit system is finally being built in the Colombian capital Bogotá


If you're stuck in traffic now, spare a thought for the capital of Colombia. Bogota is home to 11 million people and to a lot of traffic. One study claims it has the worst rush hour traffic in the world. Now, better public transportation could help. So now, after more than 80 years of dithering, Bogota officials are finally building a metro. Here's reporter John Otis.

JOHN OTIS, BYLINE: It's rush hour in Bogota. And as usual, cars and trucks are just inching along.


OTIS: Last year, the TomTom Traffic Index ranked the Bogota metro area as having the world's worst rush hour gridlock, beating out megacities like Manila, Mumbai and Tokyo. The survey said Bogota drivers spend 10 days per year stuck in congestion. There are many reasons for the logjams, including too few traffic lights, too many potholes and aging vehicles that break down on the streets. Another problem is that millions of Bogotanos are crowded into poor and working-class neighborhoods on the outskirts of the city. That means long commutes all at the same time over the same roads to get to jobs in the city's center and in the northern business district.

ISABEL ACERO: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: Isabel Acero (ph) has to take three buses to get from her home in south Bogota to her job at a downtown call center.

ACERO: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: She says it takes her two hours to get to work, then another two to get home. Bogota has managed to get by all these years without a metro because it built a state-of-the-art BRT - or bus rapid transit network - that uses dedicated bus lanes rather than city streets.


OTIS: Built 25 years ago, Bogota's BRT has been copied all over Latin America. But it failed to expand along with the city's population and is now badly overcrowded. Efforts to build a metro date back to 1942, but politics kept getting in the way. Bogota mayors often go on to run for president. And to win votes, they want to take credit for building the Metro. Thus, a succession of mayors kept redesigning the project to put their own personal stamp on it.

LUIS ANGEL GUZMAN: Every mayor every four years changed totally the plans. The result is that we have nothing.

OTIS: That's Luis Angel Guzman, an urban planner at Los Andes University in Bogota. All these delays, Guzman says, have left Bogota as the world's third-largest city without a metro. But that's finally starting to change.


OTIS: Two years ago, workers broke ground on the first 14 miles of the new Bogota metro. It will start out as an elevated train, although additional lines will likely run underground.

This is one of the main construction sites for the new metro. There's about a dozen workers right behind me, and they're working on a bridge that's going to hold up part of the metro.

Line 1 of the metro is scheduled to open in 2028. Meanwhile, city officials are restricting the use of cars based on license plate numbers and may start charging fees for driving in congested areas.

DEYANIRA AVILA: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: "We can't go on thinking that cars are the best way to get around," Deyanira Avila, Bogota's mobility secretary, tells NPR. Besides promoting the metro, her team is building more bus lanes and sidewalks and adding to Bogota's network of bike paths, which is Latin America's largest.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

OTIS: However, in the short term, all of these projects are causing more traffic snarls. Motorists must now detour around hundreds of construction sites, as I found out after jumping into a taxi.

Now I'm on my way home from reporting this story and we are stuck in a bumper-to-bumper traffic jam. We're not moving at all.

For NPR News, I'm John Otis in Bogota. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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