Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Chile: Transit Fiasco Wounds Bachelet

It appears the honeymoon has ended for the darling of liberals everywhere, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet. That the transit problem appears to stem from the reliance on "private transit firms," Bachelet's loss of support is probably coming from the left. Equally adored (by the West) ex-President Lagos is probably more to blame, but I doubt many seperate the two. The whole article comes from the LA Times.

SANTIAGO, CHILE — Barely more than a year in office, President Michelle Bachelet is suffering a sharp slide in voter confidence as her administration scrambles to salvage a botched public transport overhaul that has wreaked havoc in this capital.

The Transantiago plan, designed to improve the city's chaotic system of buses and reduce pollution from the transit vehicles' exhaust, has instead stranded passengers, generated marathon waits and overtaxed the city subway.

Scores of angry protests have erupted, and lawmakers, social activists, clergy and those at both ends of the political spectrum have condemned the project as an unmitigated, and preventable, disaster.

At this point, fixing the transit system is widely viewed as the biggest challenge facing Bachelet since she took office and one of the most severe political crises in the 17 years since democracy returned to Chile.

On Monday, Bachelet replaced four Cabinet ministers, including her beleaguered transportation chief, and offered an apology for the mayhem. "The inhabitants of Santiago, especially the poorest, deserve an apology from all of us," Bachelet said.

Pollution over Santiago

But the promised number of buses has yet to hit the streets, stranding tens of thousands of angry commuters. The president on Sunday pledged to seek "guarantees" from private transit firms to produce the missing vehicles.

Complaints are aired daily of people arriving to work late and exhausted after hours spent trying to get there.
Many commuters turned to the city's subway, which had been viewed as generally efficient and modern.

But a near doubling of the passenger load has overwhelmed the system, forcing officials to close stations amid reports of commuters dropping from heart attacks and other ailments in the packed trains.


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