Part 3 of 4: A transport revolution spawned in the desert sands of Arica Chile
Yurts at Poncha Pass - Colorado Yurt Rentals and Sustainable Building Workshops - Photo of Chris in ground of Earthship

Written by Chris

January 10, 2017

Crossing the border from Perú in the late afternoon sun, the bus makes its way down the coast to the border town of Arica Chile. This arid port town, we hope might be the sight of our first commercial wave energy system, but that is another story.

The town of Arica has about 120,000 inhabitants. Like most transport infrastructure found in towns of this size, it is mostly composed of streets big and small, cars, taxis, and buses. I find myself sitting at a dusty and hot bus stop waiting to catch a ride towards the center of town when a taxi pulls up with a sign and a number 8 on it. One passenger pops out, another pops in and on it goes. Not a mind-blowing concept, but the city of Arica turns out to have numerous established routes with “collectivo”, or collective cabs making laps throughout the city.

Having spent the last year and a half passing through Lima as a sort of home base, I see huge potential for a simple system in a city like Lima. Lima suffers as many big cities do from horrible traffic congestion. Unlike other cities, it is just starting to be influenced from taxi services such as Uber, TaxiBeep, and EasyTaxi, where protests have been erupting in cities across the world for some time as taxi drivers fight to keep their jobs and compete with private companies.

If a large city such as Lima were to establish multiple ride sharing routes throughout the city for cabs, numerous positive outcomes could be realized. One, by sharing a collectivo, the rate for the passenger drops considerably, saving both money for the consumer as well as providing job security for the cab driver that is at risk of losing market share to services like Uber. Why pay for an Uber when a collectivo is a quarter of the price and your journey today is along a central route. No wonder Uber is already making inroads into this market of ride share. Secondly, by aggregating transport and reducing the number of vehicles on the road even only slightly, say 10%, it would result in a massive reduction in congestion. In the city of Stockholm, research has shown that congestion does not act linearly with the number of cars but more so exponentially. What this means is that when the number of cars are reduced by 10%, congestion actually drops by a much higher value. Cities with extensive traffic can lose 3.5% of GDP due of congestion and within Lima, a city with roughly 250,000 cabs, most of which are informal, median family incomes can loose up to 10% of their potential annual earnings from waiting in daily traffic.

A reduction in traffic would thereby result in a direct boost in economic activity throughout the city and does not begin to address mental or physical health improvements. Although I use Lima as an example, countless other cities find themselves in the same boat, asking the same question and could benefit from aggregating the taxi system into collective ride sharing service within existing infrastructure.

A few challenges to this concept are that there for one would be a reduction in the overall number of needed taxi drivers. Where do those many taxi drivers and informal taxi drivers go? For each municipality, the answer to this question would vary based on their specific needs. Public work programs could be increased with correlating increased rises in city GDP. Increased liberty to move within city would most certainly result in rises in private sector employment as well. The other major concern would be security. Lima offers a bus line with a chip payment service. Ride share taxi lines could be made to require the same payment method with chips correlating to accounts. Passengers are then accounted for and an entire industry of informal taxis, which can often be dangerous, moves towards a more secure, more efficient methodology that remains competitive to emerging private services such as Uber. Whatever the case, it is often the simplest ideas that present real solutions and the world could learn a thing or two from the desert landscape of the Atacama desert and the small town of Arica Chile.

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