Where Next for Buenos Aires?

An efficicent public transit, used by almost 80 percent of the population, is a top priority for the Buenos Aires city government, the author points out. (Photo: Martin St-Amant)


Efficient public transit, sustainable mobility and technological innovations are the pillars of the transformation of Argentina’s capital.




Accelerating urbanization, economic growth, and shifting demographics are combining to transform cities around the world in profound ways – and, in particular, their transportation systems. Every day, huge masses of people circulate through city centers by car, bus, and train. From New York to Tokyo, from to Mexico City to Johannesburg, and from Sao Paulo to Buenos Aires, managing this flow is becoming increasingly challenging for city governments.


This is especially true for the capitals of emerging countries, like Argentina, where the combined effects of economic expansion, population growth, and the development of a consumer middle class – meaning, more demand for vehicles – have led to ever greater pressure on logistical and transportation infrastructure. I realized just how similar the challenges facing our cities are when I visited Budapest, Hungary, several months ago. There, among representatives of some sixty cities, we discussed the reforms being undertaken in my city, Buenos Aires.


Among the participants, we found broad agreement regarding our policies emphasizing a citizen focus, and our efforts to improve the mobility options for all residents, whether they are natives or newcomers. We also found support for our work to streamline urban logistics in order to facilitate commercial transportation in areas of national importance such as ports, highways, and airports. Finally, the assembled city representatives agreed that the best transit systems address the multiple challenges of urban dynamism as a single, unified problem: creating an organic system that improves the circulation of people, allows the efficient movement of goods and services, promotes environmental stewardship, and protects the rights of all.


In Buenos Aires, we are basing our urban transformation on three fundamental pillars. First, we must prioritize public transit, which is used by the vast majority of the population (in our case, almost 80 percent) and which is more efficient, less polluting, and easier to expand along with the city’s growth.


Secondly, we are promoting sustainable mobility. This means expanding bicycle use and walkability, but it also means a profound rethinking of roadway safety and management policy, in order to connect the city to its commercial infrastructure, including ports and railways, without sacrificing the ability of residents to safely move through the city no matter what mode of transportation they choose. Given the millions of dollars of transactions that flow through our cities every year, it is critical for both quality of life and economic growth that the logistical infrastructure on which that commerce depends runs smoothly, meshing with the life and rhythm of the city.


Finally, we are introducing technological innovations that will keep residents constantly informed, not only in order to involve them more fully in the city’s development, but also to help them make the most efficient transportation decision at any time of day or night. We are developing these programs with active citizen involvement from beginning to end – by encouraging residents to contribute data to our technical teams in real time, that information becomes useful for everyone, mitigating congestion and improving the overall experience of the city.


These pillars of reform flow from a fundamental, holistic analysis of the city – incorporating not only the need for efficient transit, but also a broader understanding of the interplay between these logistical considerations and the nature of the urban economy, which is largely oriented towards services. For this reason, as urban policymakers we are also considering how to increase the city’s role in administering critical infrastructure such as ports, highways, and airports, areas we currently have little input on but which so profoundly affect our economic development and the quality of our residents’ transportation options.


In short, transportation infrastructure is a web that connects all aspects of city life – for better or worse. Realizing this, we must move forward with important initiatives – from technology that streamlines drivers licensing, to bikeshare programs, to expansion of the Metrobus – that will not only facilitate urban growth but, most importantly, improve quality of life for all residents. 


Guillermo Dietrich is Under Secretary for Transportation in the City of Buenos Aires. He wrote this column for Latinvex.

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