Combis, Custers y el Transporte Público en Lima

Casi todos los días vemos en las noticias del Perú docenas de personas lesionados en accidentes de tránsito que involucran unidades del transporte público, si sean los chóferes, pasajeros, o, peor, peatones. Por lo general, los accidentes de transito representan el cuarto cargo de morbilidad más importante en el Perú. Anualmente, hay más de 3,000 fatalidades y 60,000 heridos. En 2006, alrededor de 31% de los 27,000 accidentes de tránsito en Lima y Callao involucraron una unidad de transporte público y en 154 de ellas había un fallecido (por lo menos) que representan 34% de los fallecidos en este año. Casi 75% de los muertos (113 personas) fueron peatones (otros 251 peatones perdieron la vida en otras accidentes que no involucraron transporte público). Necesitamos contar también el denominador de estas cifras para ser justo porque las unidades de transporte publico hacen muchos más viajes, corren más horas, y van distancias más largas. En 2004, 52% de los 16,508,000 viajes diarios en Lima fueron por transporte público, 25% por caminata, 13% por carro privado, y 10% en taxi. Entonces, en 2006 en Lima y Callao había 5 muertos en accidentes de tránsito que involucraron unidades de transporte público por cada 100 millones de viajes de personas en transporte público. En contraste, había 12 muertos en accidentes de tránsito que involucraron solo carros privados (incluyendo taxis y colectivos) por cada 100 millones de viajes de personas en carros privados. Si fuéremos a examinar las distancias recorridos, la diferencia sería aún más grande entre ellos.

Hay llamadas para eliminar ciertos tipos de transporte público, mayormente los combis. Sin embargo, debemos considerar los beneficios del transporte público, incluyendo los combis. Necesitamos asegurar de que puede seguir creciendo y que toda la población tiene acceso justo y equitativo. Aunque los combis y otros modos de transporte público hacen falta de muchos mejoramientos, proveen un servicio importante a segmentos de la población para movilizarse diariamente. Lima y otras ciudades en países de bajos y medios ingresos tienen niveles de uso del transporte público increíbles comparados a países de altos ingresos, especialmente a los EE.UU. dónde solo 3% de los viajes están en transporte público, 9% están por caminata y 86% están en carros privados. Las cifras de uso de transporte público y de caminata de Lima son envidiables y las políticas deben buscar a aumentar y promocionar estos modos (y bicicletas). Un nuevo estudio indica que los que usan el transporte público tienen una probabilidad mucha más alta de tener actividad física (por lo menos 12 minutos más por día). Además de los beneficios de tener más actividad física, más uso del transporte público puede reducir el tráfico vehicular que ahoga las calles. Más y más personas en Lima están comprando y usando autos para su transporte diario, reemplazando su uso del transporte público. Es una lástima que esto está pasando porque Lima y Callao, aún con más cambios viales y nuevos proyectos, nunca va poder manejar más tráfico tal como otras ciudades han encontrado. Realmente es fabuloso que hay tantas opciones de transporte público en Lima. Es barato, el servicio es mucho más regular que otras ciudades, y se puede llegar a casi cualquier parte de la ciudad en solo 1 o 2 líneas. No quiero decir que no tiene problemas: tiene mucho para mejorar, especialmente en términos de seguridad vial y el comportamiento de los chóferes.

A pesar de los beneficios del transporte público, no podemos dejar que la situación sigue en su rumbo de un sistema sin muchas reglas o cumplimiento. Hay muchas reformas necesarias (y muchas en marcha que necesitan más coordinación y cumplimiento). Es importante en ciudades como Lima a promocionar los viajes activos y seguros, y mejorar el transporte público es una manera de ayudar esta meta. Pensemos en cómo aumentar el transporte público y de como hacerlo más seguro para todos.

“No pudo evitar atropellar el peatón” – “He could not avoid hitting the pedestrian”

A common explicative narrative in Peruvian media reporting on pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions is that the driver could not avoid hitting the pedestrian because of the pedestrian’s imprudent and untimely crossing.  The driver is rarely blamed and is generally viewed quite sympathetically in the media.  There are of course exceptions to this, usually when bus drivers are the ones responsible for striking pedestrians with their vehicles or if the pedestrian is a VIP or related to a VIP. This attitude towards pedestrians needs to change.

I am not arguing that the pedestrians are completely innocent or that drivers are completely responsible; the circumstances are usually complex, but in general motorists in Peru need to adjust their attitude towards pedestrians and be more respectful of them.  A pedestrian is much more vulnerable to injury and fatality than a motorist in pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions, thus drivers have to learn to be more respectful and careful when there are pedestrians present.  In a dense urban megacity like Lima where there are over 8 million inhabitants the motorists there need to accept that the roadway is shared with both pedestrians and cyclists (a small but growing proportion of road users in Lima).  About 25% of all trips are walking trips and 50% are on public transit (as of 2004) and only 25% are in privately-owned vehicles (including taxis, personal vehicles, motorcycles, etc.).  These numbers are especially serious considering pedestrians were about 80% of Peru’s reported road fatalities in 2007 (at least of those who die on site, the surveillance system does not quite yet account for all who die later due to their injuries).

So what is the media’s role in changing these attitudes?  The narratives almost always rely only on the driver’s description of the incident; rarely do we hear the pedestrian’s side of the story because in the serious incidents getting reported in the media the pedestrian is already dead or under medical care.  Sometimes a witness or someone accompanying the pedestrian may contribute, but even they may not have directly observed what really happened.  Thus the news story being reported will be biased against the pedestrian, regardless of their culpability.  Of course a motorist does not want to be held responsible for striking someone, especially if the pedestrian dies.  I doubt most motorists had any intention of hitting a pedestrian, but they may be engaged in risky behaviors that predisposed them to being unable to control the situation when a pedestrian did try to cross (perhaps imprudently).  Journalists reporting on these incidents may lack knowledge about the biomechanics of pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions and their primary risk factors, thus they are willing to use this narrative that it was an accident that just happened without any way to change the fact that it happened.

Journalists reporting on these events need to really consider and question what the driver was doing before the incident.  If he was traveling too fast in an urban area where he could not stop in time then he could have avoided the collision if he had been going the speed limit or less.  He should have slowed down when he saw pedestrians trying to cross.  Pedestrians do often cross where and when they perhaps shouldn’t in Lima (though often they have no choice because the roads are often not designed to accommodate their transit needs) and drivers are aware of this fact, thus they need to accept that they need to travel more slowly when pedestrians are present.  If the driver speed was not the problem, it is possible he was doing some other distracting/impairing behavior like talking or texting on a mobile device, inebriated, or was tired.  The built environment cannot be ignored.  Lima’s street designs are not often conducive to safe pedestrian travel or behaviors.  I myself have at times found myself “trapped” and forced to cross unsafely because there were no options or warnings that the sidewalk I was taking would lead me directly into vehicle traffic with no options for crossing.

Overall, journalists need to consider the pedestrian perspective more and really question the driver’s motives for reporting that the collision was inevitable. 

Hora Segura in Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru recently enacted a law to prohibit alcohol sales after 11 AM at commercial venues every day and at bars and clubs sale is prohibited Sun-Thu after 12 AM and after 3 AM on Fri, Sat and holidays.  This is an important law and a step in the right direction to help prevent and reduce alcohol-related injuries and mortality.  We can very well expect motor vehicle collisions (including pedestrians hit by vehicles) and interpersonal violence to decrease if this law is enforced.  Any law such as this should be evaluated to demonstrate its effectiveness.  Several months ago the Municipalidad Metropolitana de Lima (MML) had a press event (,, and  lauding this law’s effectiveness based on road traffic incidents being reduced by 52% and fatalities by 40% between two time points before and after the law was enacted; however, the statistics and methods they used to back up their claims are very tenuous.  Using such statistics may do this law more harm than good because it casts doubt on its effectiveness.

There several reasons we should be cautious about these statistics.  First, the data come from an active surveillance system run by MINSA, the Ministry of Health.  It is a rather new system that has a good start, but is not a complete surveillance system since it only covers public hospitals, mostly in Lima, so it would only capture road traffic incident victims that visited those hospitals for medical care.  This would most likely include people with at least moderate to severe injuries, but not all of them would go to a public hospital.  Many would go to a private clinic or hospital, thus this system only captures a fraction of the victims.  The press reports cited report that the system registered a total of 150 MVC crash victims in December of 2011 (before the law was enacted) and 70 in April of 2012, only in the district of the Cercado of Lima (the central area of Lima).  These two numbers were used to calculate the reduction of 52% and 40%.  These numbers are likely underreporting the total number of victims since the police in 2006 (the most recent year of data available for this district from the police) reported 243 incidents in December and 213 in April.  We know overall the road traffic incidents in Peru are increasing based on temporal trends reported by the police (there were 1543 incidents from Jan-Jun in 2011 and 1481 in the same months in 2006 in the Cercado, so it is likely the number of victims is still as high or more than what was reported by MINSA’s surveillance system.  We have to remember too that the police do not catch all road traffic incidents.  Some incidents are unreported because the people involved resolve the matter between themselves or if someone is in a single-vehicle collision they may not report it either.

Second, the numbers reported are not specific to the hours of prohibition of Hora Segura during which we might expect to see an effect.  They are the total number of incidents recorded.  We could reasonably expect a reduction in the number of road traffic incidents from 11 PM to 5 AM Mon-Fri and perhaps from 3-7 AM on Sat & Sun (from drinking from the previous evening/early hours of these days).  If we refer again to the 2006 data, there were 20 victims in Dec and 22 in April during the relevant hours – about 9% of the totals.  We cannot honestly apply the reductive effect of Hora Segura to all road traffic indicents in these two months.

Third, we are only observing two snapshots of road traffic incident victims, not the entire temporal trend.  Incidents can vary over time from month-to-month.  You may randomly get one month with seemingly high number of incidents and another with a low number of incidents.  Comparing the two we might think we are observing a trend, but this unfair because we are not observing the entire trend.  We need month-to-month statistics on the number of victims long before and after the passage of this law to account for temporal trends.  It could be the number of victims is decreasing before the law went into effect, that either month was an aberration, or that something else may account for the reduction. Additionally, these trends are not accounting for the number of drivers, pedestrians, passengers and other road users.  Comparing these numbers alone assumes all else is constant, but that is a strong assumption.

The issue is that the MML could have easily obtained fairly detailed records from the police commissaries that cover the Cercado rather than relying on shoddy statistical tactics.  We could have had a much more complete picture.  Now that we are over a year out from Hora Segura, we could get a better picture of its effect if we went into the commissary records to really get much more complete numbers on how 2011 and 2012 looked in terms of not only road traffic incidents during the specific hours of interest, but also other types of alcohol-related problems like assaults, homicides, suicides and such.