Floating through the air high above the urban sprawl of La Paz, Bolivia, is an exhilarating experience. When the wind blows rocking you from side to side, it becomes a somewhat more terrifying time! Welcome to Mi Teleferico, the urban rapid transit system of La Paz comprised of cable cars flying through the air upto 100m above the city roofs below, and perhaps 200m above the ground. The views across the city are magnificent.
Suspended from a single metal cable (or monorail), perhaps 2inches thick, by just one arm, each of the 443 cable cars presently in use seats upto 10 people. There are clear instructions not to muck about in transit, and to spread yourselves equally around each car. But each sideways movement results in us gripping onto our seats tightly – a pointless reflex action really because it’ll do nothing to save us if the car should fall. Which of course it won’t…
Mi Teleferico (official website) is not some fancy new tourist attraction though. It’s a modern bit of urban planning in La Paz designed to address numerous transport related issues. It’s modernity & sleekness is in stark contrast to the chaotic sprawl below, and the often desperate state of people’s homes. First conceived as an idea back in the 1970’s, the plans only became reality in July 2012, financed internally by the Bolivian state, and construction started soon after. The system is being built by a an Austrian firm, using mainly local workers (1200 in the first stage).
Presently 3 Lines are in operation since 2014 – Red, Yellow & Green – with 10 stations and a capacity of 6000 passengers per hour for 17hrs a day. The Red & Yellow lines connect central La Paz to 2 points up in El Alto, whilst the Green line runs to the posher suburb of Zona Sur. Finance has been made available for a further 8 lines & some 26+ stations, some of which link 2 lines. The 4th line to open, the Blue Line, is due on 6 March this year, and will extend the system deeper into a part of El Alto. (More details here). Presently a ride on any line costs just 3 Bolivianos (35p), or 6Bols if your journey uses 2 lines. Cheaper & concessionary fares are available too.
Uniting the city or moving cheap labour faster?
The tag line for the system reads ‘Mi Teleferico – Uniendo Neustras Vidas’ (‘Uniting Our Lives’), and one stated aim of the system is increased social integration across the city, or cities if one sees La Paz & El Alto as seperate entities. Undoubtedly the scope of the system and the low cost of travel (will) allow people much easier transport to its disparate parts, whilst also reducing road traffic congestion & pollution. However given the fact that perhaps 300,000 (indigenous) people travel daily down from El Alto to work in La Paz and the suburb of Zona Sur, it’s also true that the system means these workers can be transported more quickly & cheaply to where they are needed. Yes it’s beneficial to these workers too, but much more needs to be done to improve their daily lives and the homes and other dire facilities where they live ie sanitation, water & other utilities, education, healthcare etc. Otherwise the MiTeleferico runs the risk of being just another example of the state subsidising the private sector, and the poorer workers paying for it through taxation. Which would be a shame, as MiTeleferico is undoubtedly an innovative and potentially groundbreaking transit system in a country like Bolivia, that wouldnt go amiss in somewhere like Bristol with its equally inefficient & outdated transport network! Here’s some more pics of the day….