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Transantiago reforms, Chile: Preparing for Version 2.0 [free access]

December 1, 2017

Transantiago, the public transport system in Santiago, Chile, comprises a bus rapid transit (BRT) network, feeder bus lines, metro system and commuter rail system. It completed 10 years of service in February 2017 and involved an investment of around USD15 billion over the 10 years.

 

Transantiago is considered one of the most ambitious and expensive transport reforms ever undertaken in a developing country. It aimed to resolve all transport-related problems of the city but the actual performance has not been satisfactory. The system has faced many problems since its inception and emerged as a case study in the pitfalls of transport reform.

 

Background

 

Prior to Transantiago, Santiago’s public transport system was a commuter’s nightmare. The fully-private Yellow Bus service was run by 3,000 operators, using a fleet of 8,000 substandard buses (converted trucks with bus chassis).

 

Table 1 presents the main urban transport problems and Transantiago’s solution to tackle them.

 

Table1: Transantiago’s approach to tackle transport problems

Problem

Transantiago solution

Agglomeration and congestion due to buses

The government would deliver the most important avenues to only six companies, who would operate in exclusivity. The BRT system will be in the city and feeder services inside the communes.

Long inter-communal journeys

Long inter-communal bus service to be transformed into combination of trunk and feeders services, operators to receive exclusive access to routes

Integration of transit services

Unified financial system using contactless fare cards, construction of two inter-modal stations, centralised operations control centre and user data collection

Compensation to the concessionaire

The operators would receive payment based on distance travelled on trunk routes, number of passengers carried on the feeder routes.

Source: Espacio Público

 

Implementation

 

Transantiago commenced service on February 10, 2007, with much fanfare. Initially, it comprised 200 km of dedicated bus lanes divided into two main subsystems (main lines and local lines) and full integration of the BRT with the Santiago Metro. A total of 1,776 new buses were launched to replace all previous buses and a new fare structure was implemented, which allowed passengers to use contactless smart cards for integrated payment and minimal charge during transfers.

 

Transantiago was implemented for the entire metropolitan area in a single sweep, commonly known as the Big Bang approach. The only component with phased implementation was the metro expansion. At the time this decision was undertaken, it was believed that a citywide transformation would bring all the benefits of organised operations to all commuters simultaneously, as well as lower congestion and pollution.

 

In reality, the different system components such as infrastructure, support systems, financial administration and control measures, were ill-equipped to meet the challenges involved in a simultaneous launch.

 

Current system

 

The system began with 16 operators but dropouts and mergers shrunk the number of operators to seven. Subus Chile S.A., the current largest bus concession company, operates 20.1 per cent of Transantiago’s bus fleet (1,306 buses). Table 2 provide details of the Transantiago network for the period of 2010-2016.

 

Table 2: Details of Transantiago system (2010-16)

 

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

Public transport 

Annual trips (millions passengers)

1,115

1,098

1,088

1,094

1,077

1,047

1,037

No. of bus concession companies

12

11

7

7

7

7

7

Modal Exchange Stations

5

6

6

6

6

6

6

Bus

No. of buses

6,564

6,165

6,298

6,493

6,513

6,550

6,646

No. of stops

10,809

11,188

11,165

11,271

11,325

11,322

11,339

Length of the road network covered by buses (km)

2,692

2,732

2,766

2,770

2,790

2,817

2,821

Segregated roads (km)

62

62

62

68

69

70

72

Exclusive routes (km)

31

31

31

31

31

31

31

Only Bus Tracks (km)

119

119

119

119

119

-

-

Only Bus Tracks* (km)

-

-

-

-

161

180

200

Metro

Length of the network (km)

95

104

104

104

104

104

104

Number of lines

5

5

5

5

5

5

5

No. of stations

101

108

108

108

108

108

108

No. of trains

187

187

190

186

186

186

186

No. of cars

967

967

1,030

1,093

1,093

1,093

1,093

Note: *Measurement form was changed. Previously, distance was considered regardless of the direction of travel. Currently, distance is measured as per the direction of travel.

Source: Metropolitan Public Transportation Board/Directorio de Transporte Público Metropolitano (DTPM)

 

Table 3 provides details of the bus concession companies.

 

Table 3: Details of bus concessionaires

Bus concession company

No. of services operated

Fleet size*

Percentage of total fleet

End date of concession

Inversiones Alsacia S.A.

35

752

11.5

October 22, 2018

Subus Chile S.A.

59

1,306

20.1

August 22, 2020

Buses Vule S.A.

81

1,203

18.5

November 24, 2021

Express de Santiago S.A. Uno S.A.

59

1,242

19.1

October 20, 2018

Metbus S.A.

50

928

14.2

October 20, 2018

Redbus Urbano S.A.

57

646

9.9

November 30, 2016**

Servicio de Transporte de Personas

31

436

6.7

November 30, 2016**

Note: *Fleet size is as of 2014; ** Redbus Urbano S.A. and Servicio de Transporte de Personas operate under the regulatory framework called "Operating Conditions". Contract of both the companies ended on May 31, 2015.

Source: Puga (2017) and DTPM (2014)

 

In November 2017, the contract with bus operator Express de Santiago Uno S.A. was extended from October 2018 till June 2019.

 

The metro system is operated by state enterprise, Empresa de Transporte de Pasajeros Metro S.A. (Metro SA). Metro de Santiago Line 6 opened in November 2017. The line spans 15 km from Los Leones on the eastern side of the city to Cerrillos in the southwest, covering 10 stations. Annual ridership on the line is estimated to be 42 million passengers.

 

EFE Group commenced passenger services on the Metrotren commuter rail line on March 17, 2017. The line spans 20 km from Almeda to Nos, covering 10 stations.  

 

Metropolitan Public Transportation Board/ Directorio de Transporte Público Metropolitano (DTPM) is the government entity that controls, regulates and supervises the public transport system of Santiago.

 

Performance analysis

 

Following are some of the radical changes recorded immediately after the implementation of Transantiago:

 

 

The roll-out was initiated without putting several key system design elements in place. This resulted in problems regarding service quality and coverage, alienating much of the user base. The initial problems included lack of information for passengers, inadequate route coverage, unavailability of operable buses and insufficient corridors and new stops.

 

Lessons learned

 

Transantiago has received significant investment but failed to produce the desired results. The system has had a troubled life and suffers from a poor image. It suffered from poor planning and implementation. Planners laid some bus lanes directly over metro lines, so the two forms of transport compete rather than complement each other.

 

The following causes have been identified for Transantiago's poor performance.

 

Incorrect incentives: For trunk corridors, remuneration was paid per km travelled, which reduced the motivation for operators to capture passengers. For feeder corridors, remuneration was paid per passenger transported, which limited geographical coverage. These problems led to longer waits at stops and longer travel times compared to the Yellow Buses.

 

In 2012, the calculation of the remuneration for trunk corridors was changed such that 70 per cent of the payment was based on number of passengers transported and only 30 per cent was based on the distance travelled. Over the years, this modification has resulted in higher service frequency and reliability. However, the quality of service is still lacking. This is because the tools for monitoring of service quality, such as passenger counting, were not included in the design of Transantiago.

 

Excess of transhipments: Transhipments refer to change from one transport vehicle to another during the journey. This was a major systemic problem because the number of routes was few and passengers had to wait for long at stops.

 

Deterioration in service frequency and speed: The original design of Transantiago planned regular service frequency though global positioning system (GPS), which was never implemented. Between 2012 and 2016, the operating speed fell by 8.3 per cent. Operators such as Subus (1,305 buses) and Alsace-Express (1,992 buses) failed to meet the minimum required level of service frequency.

 

Fall in demand and increase in costs: Transantiago aimed to promote the use of public transport. As per the Origin-Destination Survey, the modal share of public transport in total trips fell from 47 per cent to 31 per cent between 1991 and 2001; and from 31 per cent to 26 per cent between 2002 and 2012. The 2002-12 survey indicates a decrease of 327,000 passengers in daily public transport ridership, increase in the share of cars from 21 per cent to 25 per cent, and growth of daily car trips by 1.3 million.

 

The fall in demand for the Transantiago system had two major negative implications for the bus service. First, the increase in the modal share of private cars increased congestion and reduced speed. Secondly, a lower demand for buses reduced the operating revenue (already impacted by fare evasion) and forced the government to inject more public resources without any significant social benefit.

 

Table 4 illustrates the decline in the number of transactions for each bus concession company between 2013 and 2015.

 

Table 4: Transactions in buses (in millions)*

Bus concession company

2013

2014

2015

Inversiones Alsacia S.A.

116.60

115.65

108.14

Subus Chile S.A.

188.48

175.33

167.44

Buses Vule S.A.

184.93

178.45

168.85

Express de Santiago Uno S.A.

198.08

191.91

177.04

Metbus S.A.

166.55

160.40

155.99

Redbus Urbano S.A.

95.89

94.97

90.45

Servicio de Transporte de Personas

59.73

56.11

53.46

Total (in millions)

1010.25

972.83

921.36

Note: *Transactions or validations with right to payment

Source: Puga (2017)

 

If the annual rate of decline in the number of transactions of 3.6 per cent is maintained, Transantiago could lose 290 million validations in 10 years, which is equivalent to 30 per cent of current validations. If this happens without fleet reduction, as has been the case until the last few years, the cost per passenger will rise to unsustainable levels and aggravate the financial problems of concessionaires.  

 

Fare evasion: Around 30 per cent of rides taken on Transantiago are not paid for. As per the Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications (MTT), fare evasion has cost the system around CHP64.44 million - CLP128.88 million between 2009 and 2015. This is equivalent to 31 per cent of the system's deficit.

 

Passengers are less inclined to pay fares and fare-dodging has become a form of protest. Despite subsidies, fares have risen by 40 per cent since 2010, much faster than most prices. The city has hired too few inspectors to catch fare-dodgers. Sometimes, buses are so crowded that even honest passengers have trouble reaching the card-swipe machine.

 

Market share of companies: The presence of only a few companies (seven as of now) in charge of the system has elevated the market power of individual companies and prevented correct supervision by the government on service quality. The large operators have fleets of 1,200 or more buses. This makes them “too big to fail”.

 

Exogenous elements: Urban area problems such as increase in traffic congestion and lack of infrastructure have adversely affected the quality of public transport services.

 

Transantiago Stage 2

 

The contracts of current Transantiago concessionaires will end in 2018. The second stage of Transantiago involving new tendering for operations from end-2018 presents a unique opportunity for restructuring of the system. The system will have only six operators. The government will allocate CLP6.07 billion to new concessionaires for monthly operation and procurement of new vehicles.

 

The re-tender process was launched in May 2017 and envisages the replacement of 50 per cent of the bus fleet at a cost of about USD500 million. This is equivalent to 3,300 buses, of which 90 will be electric buses supplied by BYD. The other buses will feature advanced features such as low-emission technology, use of natural gas as fuel and double-decker configuration. The installation of turnstiles, inspectors and payment areas has been planned to prevent fare evasion. The tender is based on three pillars: better service quality, increased competition within the system and greater continuity of service.

 

The start of the new service is planned to be implemented in phases to minimise the impact on existing passengers. The system’s 6,000 buses could be fully electric by the next tender, expected in 2030.

 

Recent developments

 

In March 2017, Santiago Metro reported a ridership of 670 million passengers in 2016, recording an increase of around 26 per cent over 2015. The deployment of a new automated traffic control system, which increased train availability by 12 per cent during peak hours, has been a key factor in increased ridership. In the same month, the EFE Group commenced passenger services on the Metrotren commuter rail line. 

 

In March and April 2017, pilot operations were conducted on a double-decker bus of model Enviro 500 supplied by UK-based Alexander Dennis Limited. The bus had capacity for 129 passengers (84 seated). The bus has a height of 4.1 metres, length of 12.9 metres, is ultra low-floor which gives high level of stability due to low centre of gravity, and has closed circuit television for safety, an automatic universal access ramp system, USB ports and reading lights in the seats at the first level.

 

In July 2017, companies from England, Spain, France, China, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Brazil, Australia and Chile attended the 2017 Transantiago Roadshow, held to promote the re-tendering of Santiago’s public transport system. 

 

In November 2017, MTT invited bids for the operation of bus services on six city routes. The closing date for the bids is December 27, 2017. In the same month, Transantiago deployed two electric buses of model K9FE supplied by BYD on Route 516. The buses are low-floored, 12 metres long and have capacity to carry 81 passengers (including 30 seated passengers). They are equipped with air conditioning (AC), Wi-Fi routers and USB chargers. The buses have a range of 250 km on a single charge and are expected to reduce the operating cost from MXN300 per km to MXN70 per km. In addition, the contract with bus operator Express de Santiago Uno S.A. was extended from October 2018 till June 2019.

 

In December 2017, 77 buses covering 168 stops in six communes were equipped with additional smart card validators on the back doors as part of an 11-week pilot project to prevent fare evasion. The validators are expected to provide payment option for passengers having difficulty in accessing the front turnstile and using the second door of the bus.

 

(1 CLP [Chilean Peso] = 0.002 USD)