The Traffic

This photo is from a newspaper. It shows you what it looks like here.

Obviously that’s a construction detour, and I don’t recognize exactly the location, but what is remarkable are the vehicles. All those are privately owned public transportation vehicles. There are some as old as 30 yrs still making the rounds. They are endlessly fixed, endlessly put into circulation, endlessly filled to bursting, and wend through tangled routes to every part of this sprawling urb. They’re regulated, but it is a tangle of bureaucracy more than anything.

Why so many? They all want to get a long run in the downtown areas so they can fill up. They end up in all quarters of the city, but a whole lot of them end up passing along the same downtown thoroughfares–loosely so-called–in order to get as many people as possible. All shapes and sizes too. See the blue one with a white roof heading away? I can’t stand up in one of those. But if the seats run out, one has to. Colombians just keep crowding on too.

Which is why people here are suspicious of the private systems. Not that they’re keen on the government, but the private systems don’t take their passengers into consideration as much as their cash. It doesn’t matter how bad things are, how many thieves, how much people complain. There aren’t alternatives. Why don’t they walk or ride a bike or get a car? For various reasons they mostly can’t. Let us not start on car ownership and the driving restrictions existing and making it ludicrous–though many of them do that too.

The problem is not that private enterprise can’t deliver, but that private enterprise depends on the manners and customs of the private owners. If the government didn’t regulate them in some way, nobody doubts they’d be tangling the routes up worse. They don’t come together for solutions, the owners, they’re too petty. People here now only seem to believe things can be done by force, from the top down.

It boggled my mind when I first came here. But now I am convinced: you can’t let free enterprise just go without certain mores in the people. There is a point of honor, a point of consideration, and a point of shamelessness. There is also the people who are helpless–for lack of intelligence, of any ability to coordinate themselves except in messy protests, for lack of clarity in public discourse. Private interests are all very well as long as there’s a common purpose, a common sense of some shared good (efficient transportation, for example, if such a thing exists). But consider that there are people living all together who don’t even share a vision of that.

And it seems to me that’s why you end up with leftist, elected (apathetically) rulers who want to impose their vision of a ‘shared’ good from the top down. Who can see it rising from some real sense of community? All that arises is the shared chaos of the individual heart.

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