Posts Tagged: Comuna 13



Should An Escalator Be Considered Public Transportation?

The Independencias I Connection Pathways, the world's first escalators for "Public Transport." Photo - AFP.

As we’ve argued before, Medellin is quickly becoming the poster child for multi-modal transit planning and the city’s latest public transit addition only solidifies that reputation.

Last week, the BBC reported (not to mention many, many others) that the city has opened a six-segment, 130m long system of escalators that rise 384m up into Comuna 13 – the same barrio served by Linea J of the Metrocable.

The escalator trims walking times for residents from up to 30 minutes down to 5 for the area’s 12,000 residents and was installed at a cost of approximately $7m. The system is free for all users.

I’d rather not wade into the chorus of people debating whether this is a good or bad development (and if you think there aren’t people virulently against this system, feel free to check here and here for examples of the ideologically-driven narrative against the escalators).

Instead, I’d like to focus on the system’s curious positioning specifically as public transport. As Medellin Mayor Alonso Salazar said during the system’s inauguration ceremony, “we used to see escalators in shopping malls, but Medellin will be the first to use it as public transport.”

Salazar’s comments are certainly arguable. There are no shortage of examples of outdoor escalators that aren’t considered “public transport.” So what then makes these specifically “public transport?”

My knee-jerk reaction is to say “well, of course, they’re public transport!” After all, they’re transporting members of the public in a way that improves the lives of area residents. But that might just be the emotionally-driven part of me reacting to the feel-good story this system inspires (and Mayor Salazar deftly exploits).

The flip side of the argument is this: Like roads, sidewalks and highways, the escalators are nothing more than pieces of outdoor mobility infrastructure that are usable by the general public without a specific fare or user fee. Furthermore, they’re presumably not operated or maintained by Metro de Medellin – the region’s transit agency.

So again: What makes them public transport? Are they public transport? I honestly don’t know and would love to hear your opinions.

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