Monday, March 1, 2010

16,400 transportation workers go on strike

And Bogota comes screeching to a crowded, clusterfuck of a halt.

A few years ago, Mayor Enrique Penalosa helped create the TransMilenio, a high-speed public bus system with dedicated lanes on all of the major highways. It operates in conjunction with hundreds of mini-buses that blanket the city of 8 million people, most of whom don't have cars. We've been using the TransMilenio every day to get to museums, meals, shopping, etc. It's a safe and cheap way to get around the city -- some 1600 Colombian pesos a ride, or about 80 cents. Today, we hopped on the TransMilenio at around 3pm for what should've been a 30-minute ride from Monserrate, a church in the mountains above Bogota, back to Juan Pablo's apartment.

Instead, we found ourselves packed into a bus that would have put a 9am L train to shame. After some progress, we stop moving entirely. And after a 45-minute wait stuck at our transfer at La Escuela Militar, some 25 blocks from home, we give up and elbow and shoulder our way through crowds literally spilling out onto the highway. It takes some aggressive shoving to break free, which is saying something, considering Gabe and I are at least twice the size of the average Colombian.

The stack of buses trapped at Escuela Militar at 5pm, from the view of an escapee:

We come home to newspapers and TV news reporting that all of the workers of the mini-bus system have gone on strike, and TransMilenio, as a result of the overflow, has basically fallen apart.


Nobody really knows how anybody is going to get to work tomorrow, so this is a bad bad thing for the city. Luckily for us, tomorrow we are heading down south to Neiva, a small town about 5 hours south of Bogota, to spend a few days with Gabe's father's cousin, Claudia. Then we go further out into the country to Tio Gustavo's ranch. We'll see if the strike is all resolved by the time we get back to Bogota -- but for now, we're trading the TransMilenio for caballos y vacas.