Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Germany to assist in transportation overhaul of Colombia; complete takeover forthcoming

http://www.spiegel.de/international/business/0,1518,603584,00.html

The Colombian city of Cali--the nation's third largest city with a population of 2.5 million citizens--was on the verge of widespread rioting and unrest as a result of the imminent collapse of its transportation system.

"I was receiving threats daily... no, hourly," says Miguel Castro, a city bus driver. "I would often pull up to a stop, and people had been waiting for hours. It wasn't my fault, though, this is just how the system works! But now things are getting so bad, it looks like we may have to shut the whole thing down."

Fearing that people might have to walk, run, bicycle or use other non-state methods of getting themselves around, the city officials decided to call for help. And that call was heard halfway around the world in Berlin, Germany, by one of the most successful transportation firms in the world, IVU Traffic Technologies.

"It was a very exciting phone call," says Ernst Denert, president of IVU. "I think it's been nearly 60 years since anyone from Berlin has been entrusted with intervening in a sovereign government's affairs."

When Denert and his team showed up in Cali, things began to change almost immediately. Bus drivers made an effort to be punctual, patrons actually paid for tickets, and the threat of riots disappeared completely.

Miguel Castro wasn't surprised that Germans were able to affect things so instantaneously. "I think we were mostly just scared s---less that the Germans were here. I mean, we're not scholars and all, but we do know general history. People began shaping up from the get-go."

Denert and his team researched the underlying problems with Cali's appalling transportation system for two years, trying to pinpoint the areas where German efficiency and engineering could be of most help.

"We noticed several things that needed to be changed straightaway. Firstly, it was observed that none of the bus stops had any schedules posted. People would wait at a stop for hours--even days if they showed up on a Saturday--wondering if and when their bus would come. We've now posted the schedules so that the guess-work was taken out. We also noticed that a good number of patrons were waiting at places that weren't bus stops at all, like park benches, lampposts, outhouses, etc. This we also fixed."

Denert is quite confident that the initiative will be successful, and that his efforts can replace the laid-back, slow-paced culture of Colombia with the efficient and speedy culture of the Germans. He feels that once their success is seen by surrounding nations, they too will want his group to improve their transportation systems.

"But we don't want to stop there," Denert explains. "German efficiency can improve all facets of government in all nations, especially among those in South America. It's only a matter of time before they're inviting us to improve their finances, manufacturing, weapons production, and so on. It's an exciting time to be German."

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