Chile’s various forms of private and public transport contribute approximately 26% of the greenhouse gas emissions in the country.
Along with emissions from local industries (roughly 6%), they are the cause of intense localised pollution, air quality contamination and the associated health issues such as asthma. Transport has many opportunities to target for Chile’s clean growth recovery plan coming out of COVID at the start of 2022.
Chile’s biggest city by far is Santiago, which is located in the centre of the country. It is home to about 7 million people, and during the winter months of July and August has severe air quality problems due to some unusual atmospheric conditions. The city is bounded by the Andes mountains to the East and a coastal range of mountains to the west, which almost merge to the north and south of Santiago forming a basin where emissions are trapped and linger.
During these winter months a system of traffic control is imposed to restrict the number of vehicles entering the centre of the city in an attempt to avoid dangerous levels of toxic gases and particulates from diesel engines. The system has two levels called pre-emergency and emergency, and the severity of the restrictions depends on the levels of contamination on the day in question.
Chile’s other bigger cities also have traffic and pollution problems, but not on the same scale as in Santiago. In the south, in Temuco for instance the air quality issues are more related to burning damp wood in crude heaters.
Santiago’s public transport system was modernised in 2007, which at the time was considered to be one of the most ambitious transport reforms undertaken by a developing country. It was named Transantigo and was influenced by Colombia’s TransMilenio project in Bogotá. Its plan was to standardise bus routes and connect them with cities’ metro system, and enable an integrated fare system which allowed passengers to make bus to bus, or bus to metro transfers for the price of one ticket using a contactless smart card.
The system was not well received by the fare paying customers due to lack of capacity and increased fares, and the name Transantiago was dropped in 2019. It is now known as the “Red Metropolitana de Movilidad”.
Chile has continued to improve and modernise the public transport system in and around Santiago. Significant investment has been made in the Metro system, with two complete new lines incorporated since 2015. There are now 7 lines operating which carry some 260 million passengers in 2021 and reach most of greater Santiago. More lines and extensions are planned.
The bus fleet is being sequentially replaced with newer and more efficient, agile and comfortable buses, and now in March 2022 there are a significant number of electric buses entering the fleet. The bus network is split into seven different operating concessions, each of which operates in specific geographical territories. A tender process was initiated in 2017 in an attempt to attract new operators and improve the experience for the rider and the environment. This process was stalled and never completed. See here.
The historically prominent overland train services in Chile fell into decline many years ago. More recently a number of new overland train lines have been either constructed or refurbished as feeder routes for commuters who travel into and out of the city every day, predominantly from San Fernando and Rancagua to the south. These services are operated by EFE – Trains of Chile.
The majority of Chile’s goods that arrive via the ports and airports are distributed around the country by road. The same applies to locally produced goods. The nature of Chile’s geography means that it is 4,700 km long, and has one main highway which runs from the very north of the country to the central southern city of Puerto Montt. Attempts to convert some of the longer haul routes into either cargo train or sea transport have been largely frustrated by resistance from the truckers union.
The number of cars on Chile’s roads has been increasing at a staggering rate since the beginning of the century. At the end of 2021 sales of new cars reached an all time high, fueled by the liquidity in family incomes created by the government’s pandemic related financial support mechanisms. Electric cars are still few and far between, as yet there is an insufficient charging point infrastructure and to date no feed in subsidies to encourage ownership.
However bicycles are more and more visible not only for sorting purposes, but also as a means to get to work. A new phenomenon on Chile’s urban roads is the plethora of small motorbikes delivering e-commerce and fast foods.
Policy and compliance for transport comes under the authority of the Transport and Communications Ministry. The ministry has two sub secretariats, one for transport and one for communications. Within the transport authority there are a number of subdivisions responsible for the different components for defining policy, and making and enforcing the regulations.