Telematics can lead the dance through Latin America’s congested streets

The streets are clogged. People are stressed, sick and late. Businesses are losing money. Governments’ finances are worn out and they can’t afford investments. Experts unanimously say the solution for urban mobility in Latin America is the integration of a multimodal system. That may sound unachievable from a financial standpoint but that is actually an opportunity for many players to boost income.

App builders, data processing companies, cab cooperatives, phone carriers and makers, payment systems providers and governments can take advantage of a world of information and process that towards new business, a better transportation service and some life-quality improvement.

“The whole technological theme will pass through data integration,” says Eleonora Pazos, head for Latam at the UITP [L’Union internationale des transports publics], an international organisation focused on developing an agenda for improvements in public transportation. Authorities either don’t have the data, or haven’t processed it, Pazos told TU-Automotive.

Governments have a leading role in both ends of this development. Municipal, state and federal administrations can access data from public services such as buses, trains and airplanes and they can demand information from cab or car-sharing companies. That’s the beginning.

The next step is to manage all that information yet public administrations probably won’t have the money for it. So their job is to find ways to foster private investment and participation. “In times of crisis, the public administration has an important role in making the economy gain speed,” says UITP’s Pazos. “Ultimately, these data may even generate income for them”, she adds.


The challenge is to move people from their home to their work or school the fastest and cheapest possible way. Ideally, a person living in the outskirts will jump in a cab, get to the train and move to a bus to get to work. On the way back home, they can share a car or bike for the final mile.

Latin America is not known for innovation but it responds quickly to global trends. It may be slightly behind yet many innovation projects in urban mobility are popping up in cities at the moment.

Carrot has more than 80 cars available for consumers in Mexico City, while Zazcar has 60 units in São Paulo. Last year, Float CarShare debuted in Bogota and Awto began operations in Santiago this year. Ecoelétrico expects to start retail operations in Curitiba in 2017 with at least 50 electric vehicles.

On the data side, Waze has partnerships with ten cities to share traffic information and help authorities improve mobility management. Google Transit offers real time information on public transportation in three Brazilian cities and say they are working on expanding it throughout the region.

From vehicle and bike-sharing systems to electric cars, telematics in buses and big data, municipal administrations are using every tool to help improve living conditions. They all try to solve a major problem that affects the region: Latin America is home to four-in-ten cities with the worst congestion levels in the world, according to TomTom Traffic Index Reports.

Data shows Mexico City as the league leader, while three Brazilian cities – Rio de Janeiro, Salvador and Recife – also make it into the top ten. And things may not get better anytime soon. A Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Argentaria(BBVA) research published four years ago listed countries with the largest expected car fleet increase for the 2010-2020 decade. Among the 15 with the steepest projected growth rates, 11 were Latin American nations. The bank said wealth, and not population, is the main driver behind the car fleet expansion.

Those cities also have high levels of deaths related to vehicle accidents. But that is not the worse. A research by the Institute for Health and Sustainability, in São Paulo, showed pollution related deaths are three times higher than those caused by traffic accidents.

The idea that income increases car use is behind a lot of highways and car-driven projects, but sometimes developers ignore the impact they have on the population, says Paola Jiron, urban researcher at the University of Chile in Santiago. There’s a lot being done in tech innovation but what developers lack is the understanding of what’s happening in the cities. The major flaw of the projects is just trying to apply technology but not necessarily the right one. “And some are not fancy. They are actually very simple,” she adds.

Bus fleets watch

About 90% of the time a driver spends in a car in São Paulo is not for pleasure, highlights Marcelo Cioffi, partner and automotive industry leader at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in Brazil. “It’s not an economical issue only, it’s also about productivity.”

Brazil’s largest city adopted a road-space rationing system 20 years ago, to curb pollution and reduce traffic. Drivers can’t use their cars once a week in peak hours, based on their licence plate. It worked but not for long. Instead of using public transportation or driving in alternative hours, many people acquired an additional car. Traffic remains intense, and worsening.    

Traffic is such a dilemma in São Paulo that the actual mayor wants his legacy to be a system connected with subway, bus and bike lanes. He launched a public bidding for companies to run its bus transportation system for the next 20 years. The infrastructure will demand over 3,000 buses that should be connected real time with a controlling system of the Transportation Department. The goal is to monitor traffic, buses performance and whether companies are fulfilling their contracts. Bus makers will have to adapt so they can supply those vehicles.

Swedish bus maker, Volvo, teamed up with Ericsson to offer a solution for buses in Goiania, in the central west of Brazil. The ITS4Mobility system allows users to access real time information on buses through totems, phone apps or instant messages.

“We are betting on this model because we will sell more in the region. We want to go beyond large cities,” said Luis Carlos Pimenta, president of Volvo Bus LatinAmerica by the time of the partnership release

Tyranny v geniality

Public services are a relevant source of day trips and contribute to the chaos. They also mean large fuel costs and high rent expenses and some cars are parked all day.

“Sharing electric cars in some departments of the municipal administration has already show some expense cuts,” says Ivo Reck, coordinator of the Ecoelétrico electric-car project in Curitiba. He tells TU-Automotive the goal of the project is to take private cars from the streets and reduce pollution. It’s money, too. According to a study, an electric car spends three times less than a gasoline or ethanol one. Maintenance costs are 40% lower. One shared-car removes up to 15 cars from the streets. Itaipu Binacional, the operator of the world’s second-largest hydroelectric dam on the border of Argentina and Brazil, put 18 electric vehicles to use in three Brazilian cities in May. Cost savings totalled $13,000 (£9,836).

Consumer demand for cars is not growing as much as in the past. It’s even falling in some areas and automakers are aware of that. When they develop car-sharing or green vehicle projects, they are not only thinking about the environment but also trying to provide new steam to their business.

In 2009, Renault-Nissan announced plans to invest $5.3Bn to develop four fully-electric car models. “It’s a business. When you commit such an amount of money to a project, you are clearly interested in it,” said Silvia Barcik, executive director of Renault Institute and Social Responsibility and Sustainable Urban Mobility.

Barcik says that today, one person buys an electric car each three minutes in the world. Half of them is a Renault-Nissan model. Other automakers such as Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW are also investing in the segment. 

“There’s room for every transportation type. They have to live together,” Barcik says, later citing a famous theory by business consultant Jim Collins that tells us to forget the tyranny of the ‘or’, and embrace the geniality of the ‘and’. 

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