Early morning I leave the small coastal village of Colon, nearby surfers and party paradise Montañita, to arrive in a total distinctive coastal place in Ecuador: Guayaquil.
The biggest city of Ecuador, and often called the last Caribbean city, due to its location at the coast, but as well and even more because of the Caribbean vibes.
The River and the City
This city never sleeps, is overrelaxed and crowded. Both interviews I planned were rescheduled last-minute, however when they took place, I did feel back in the Caribbean. Words as ‘chevere’ and the spontaneity made the conversations fluent, however talking about sustainability in the economic capital of a country might become controversial.
Some topics felt awkward to discuss. Its location at the Pacific Ocean and its surroundings by the rivers Guayas and Quil – guess where the name of the city comes from – are a bless and a curse. The city became the biggest harbor of the country, causing both economic growth and population growth, as putting the resources under pressure. On the other hand, this location makes the city extremely vulnerable for the rising sea levels and flooding, ask El Niño and the upcoming consequences of climate change.
The city breaths chaos: traffic and people congestion fill the streets, and the sidewalks, even the cycle paths, however I haven’t seen a single cyclist in the entire city. Which points out a huge gap in any environmental policy: create infrastructure without an appropriate cultural attitude towards its use, and the effort becomes useless. Or would it be as planting seeds that eventually will grow, when time and mindsets are ready?
In contrary of the absence of cyclists, pedestrians are taking over the sidewalks and the public squares, however lots of these squares lack green elements, and the average superficies of green, public space per citizen is way lower than the average of a sustainable city. However, this kind of infrastructure is crucial in the development of a sustainable city, as it does not only create ecological benefits, but social and economic as well.
The main mean of transportation is public transportation provided by the extended network of busses. However, polluting and emitting black fumes wherever they go, they are a reliable and frequent used system. Even more because in most streets they have their own lanes, which make part of the Buss Mass Transit system, comparable to the Colombian cities I wrote earlier. A missed opportunity to ‘green’ the system, is the lack of electrified busses or trams or subways; they are absolutely not present, nor in the present, nor in the nearby future.
Besides public transportation, the streets are filled with private transportation: particular cars and taxis, and even ride-haling services as Uber. The city even banned the eldest cars some years ago to improve the air quality. Nowadays the city goes even further and introduces the ‘Regulation to promote electric transportation’. Groundbreaking!
The City will provide charging points for electric vehicles and integrate charging points in its city and transportation plans. Further on, new projects such as shopping malls, public parking lots and any kind of project of urban and road constructions must integrate charging points in their construction site. Besides the use of electric vehicles, the production will be incentivized as well: the construction of electric vehicles in the canton of Guayaquil will receive a 50% reduction of the municipality taxes
Now I understand why one of the newest shopping malls in town created preference parking lots and charging points for electric vehicles, behind the banner ‘you don’t need a car to come to this mall’, however no electric cars in sight.
After the introduction of the first 5 electric cars in Ecuador, in 2014, the amount of registered full electric cars has risen to 240 in 2017; however, the number of hybrids might be a few thousands and both categories are expected to rise. To be continued …
Although I should appoint to the fact that electric cars are a luxury vehicle in this region, where a lot of people are struggling to accomplish their basic needs, such as alimentation and housing. The same goes up for the city council, who tells not to spend any public money in these kind of initiatives – but using public-private partnerships instead – in order to spend all the public money in basic needs, such as health, education, living and alimentation.
For most Ecuadorians a decent public transportation system, accompanied with walking and cycling facilities, would be of more importance than the introduction of electric cars. However, considering the income inequality, those Ecuadorians who possess a fancy car, might better consider an electric one, even more because most of them live out the city, and hence cause a lot of commuting traffic.