Medellin Metro: Driving Economic Development and Social Change
Medellin’s metro system has been the cornerstone of the cities revival, as what was once the world’s most dangerous city has been transformed into the world’s most innovative city in less than two decades.
The cities public transport system is now undoubtedly one of the finest in the Americas; expanding into nearby municipalities, climbing out of the valley into slum neighbourhoods with an integrated cable car network, covering all urban neighbourhoods with affiliated bus routes, the forthcoming tram system that will encircle the city and there are whispers of a revival of proposed monorail plans. Improved urban transportation in Medellin is clearly a catalyst, rather than a bi-product, for the cities economic and social development.
Following decades of difficulties in the design, funding and construction of the cities metro, the gamble has clearly paid off, as annual ridership, headway and city coverage continue to improve each year.
At its inauguration the metro had two lines, Line A running from North to South, where it terminated in the municipality of Itagui, and Line B running from the centre of Line A, at the downtown station of San Antonio, to the West of the city at San Javier, in the Comuna 13 neighbourhood, which has been plagued with gang related violence.
The construction of the first lines in 1997 had a total cost of US$2,174 million, including constructing, financial costs, interest and delays.
The project, which had been considered an expensive and financially risky endeavour, should very positive results, with ridership exceeding expectations in the first year and rising steadily since. This allowed the operating company to stabilize its finances, receive public and private investment, and expand the network across the Aburra Valley.
Line A, which began in Bello in the north and ran to Itagui in the south, was extended to serve the southern municipalities of Envigado, Sabaneta and La Estrella.
When surveyed recently, the people of Medellin voted the Metro system as the best businesses in the city, giving a 99% approval rating for the network and 96% in favour of system management.
The metro system now has two lines, 55 stations, three cable car routes, two bus routes, 20 feeder routes and 130 further privately operated bus routes which have an integrated payment system, following an agreement with the cities bus alliance.
The ‘Metrocable’ system has also been launched and has proved transformative for many previously isolated neighbourhoods. The Line J and Line K cable car systems connect directly to the metro, so users don’t have to purchase multiple tickets, and then lead high into the surrounding valley with multiple entry and exit points. This means that many of the cities poorest inhabitants have new opportunities to work and study in the centre of the city. A journey which once took 2 hours, with multiple bus changes can now take 30 minutes, with a dramatically reduced cost. The neighbourhoods in the immediate vicinity of metrocable stations have also seen improved security and new businesses have appeared.
A third cable car route was introduced recently (Line K), which connects Medellin to a Parque Arvi natural park which lies outside of the valley in a dense forest area.
In addition, the city continues to improve public transportation with the development of green corridors, which will serve the central and eastern areas of the city. The Ayacucho Avenue, medium capacity tram system, as well as two further cable car routes (Miraflores and Alejandro Echavarria).
The 4.3 km tram project, which is lead by local government and managed by the Metro company is expected to benefit 350,000 people, traveling from San Antonio up into the neighbourhoods of Villa Hermosa, Buenos Aires and La Candelaria, with 82,000 expected to use the system daily.
Last January six stations in the south of the network were closed as a precautionary measure following a landslide.
“We have restored the full level of service and passenger numbers have again increased, we are pleased to note that we have 720,000 daily users of the system. We are going to evolve and grow”, Mario Jorge Tobon Gonzalez, Social and Client Service of the Metro affirmed.
Mr. Tobon Gonzalez explained that the collapse prevented 578,734 over the period, resulting in 870 million pesos of lost revenue over the period. He has made assurances that lessons have been learnt and that preventative measures will be introduced as Metro pushes towards its 2030 master plan for an expansion of services and further extension of routes.
The current cost for a single journey on the metro is 1,650 pesos, which is about 80 cents, with subsidies available for students, senior citizens and those from low income neighbourhoods.
In 2007 Metro began the process of introducing the CÍVICA smart card system, offering adoptees a reduced rate. Adoption of the new card has been excellent, and the majority of frequent users now use the CÍVICA card as opposed to paper tickets. The CÍVICA can be used to enter the system at metrocable, metro and metroplus (articulated bus) stations.
The most recent development has been the introduction of the cities EnCicla bike share scheme which is similar to that introduced in London. The network allows metro users to borrow bikes and return them at designated locations around the city as a means of transport and recreation.