Institute for Transport Studies (ITS)

Colombia country profile

By Oscar Montoya Jonsson, MSc Transport Planning and Engineering (2011)

Currently, I’m a Senior Consultant for the Ministry of Transport in Bogotá-Colombia where I’m to deliver three products:

  • Institutional Strengthening
  • Finance guidance and direction to regional government
  • Guidance on the formulation of Regional Road Development Plans

Working for the Infrastructure Unit, I work for a cluster in charge of Road Management Advice. The project is funded jointly by the Colombian government and the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), at present, it’s on its final stages, the project aims to prepare and qualify the regional government, and more specifically, the infrastructure secretaries to a better road maintenance and building strategy, following international standards and practices adapted to the local market and needs.

Colombia is a country with mixed realities and is utterly heterogeneous. Some of its regions are undeveloped while others sustain a current development and progress. Work includes visits to regions, to hold meeting with directors, governors and stakeholders and to prepare them for a sustained road management strategy. It includes public consultation, workshops with the technical staff, and revision of their road plans. We provide a diagnosis on their institutional performance and recommendations to improve along with ways to find funding for their projects and guidance on how to find the proper resources. The work includes presentations to the staff in the Ministry of Transport with the aim of sharing the findings and preparing them in institutional strengthening. However, a planning strategy “per se” won’t change much unless local and regional institutions are strengthened and unless they find a sustainable way to develop and manage their finances. Nevertheless, the work is very interesting and includes a strong social component, transforming the whole project and performance into a live practice.

I’m a Swedish national as well as Colombian, I’ve had the opportunity to work in developed countries and now to work in Transport for a mayor authority in a developing country, challenges rise from merely planning to social and economic needs. There is currently a big interest in developing their national infrastructure but investment in the transport sector should be accompanied by investments in other areas such as education, healthcare, social inclusion and sustainable practices just to quote a few. While in Sweden, strategies are mainly oriented to manage their well-known progress and rich infrastructure and to transform decisions and strategies to sustainable ideas. Colombia, on the other hand, faces the reality of globalization and its booming awakening interest from afar.

As a rich country in raw materials (commodities), it has to balance their policies to reduce poverty and social exclusion, improve access to education and healthcare in an equal manner, and improve their public sector, to give it credibility and reduce its instability, to reduce the gap between rich and poor and evenly distribute the country’s wealth.

The city of Bogota plans to build a Metro system, whether this is a good idea or not, is a subject up for grabs and discussion, the challenge is not to repeat the mistakes, inaccuracies and faulty practices repeated by other nations, but to learn from international experience and adapt those models to their own needs.

Even if Colombia is one of the oldest independent nations in South America, it is still a work in progress whose development will depend on the quality of its leaders and the wisdom in their decision-making and transport will play a key role in the development machinery.

The major transport initiatives currently underway include;

  • Integrated Transport System implementation in Bogota and other medium size cities.
  • The Metro project for the city of Bogota.
  • Sustainable and low carbon solutions in favor of the environment.
  • The mobility scenario and current chaos in Bogotá.
  • Improve the National Rail infrastructure and systems.
  • Ports and Maritime re-engineering.
  • River corridors use as Transport links and multimodal hubs.

I recently arrived to undertake this consultancy project; to achieve something that sounds mesmerizing and even highly ambitious, whether we or I could change the country or the world might even sound as fantasy and unrealistic. I’m happy with sharing the knowledge and personal experience acquired through my life and my 12-year career which has taken me to various countries in Europe and South America, to bring the latest policies and strategies currently been carried out in the European Union to a country like Colombia is to me a reason to be thankful with God and life, I see it as planting or seeding and hopefully the reap will be abundant in a near future.

I’m moving into sustainable transport schemes and solutions in the near short-term and to keep consulting where the work and practice might take me. I see myself as a link between Europe and South America and the best days are is still to come, there are many projects to carry out and plenty of work to do an conquer.

I vividly remember a talk I had with Dr James Tate, who was my program coordinator, at the very beginning of my MSc studies, “you can end up with a title or you can achieve much more than that, you take out from the MSc what you put in it”, that talk is highly applicable to all aspects of life and skills highly depend on personality, attitude towards the world, life and your neighbor.  Technical skills are, needless to say, rapidly acquired in ITS, the academic staff are highly well known and currently going through a transition where younger professors are joining in and bringing new and fresh knowledge. 

What you learn in ITS corresponds to the latest transport trends in the developed world. The key I think is not solely to learn from the academic staff but from your peers which come from incredible faraway places in the world, if you open yourself to that, then you’ll acquire a holistic knowledge. But ultimately, it depends on each individual trying to achieve his/her full potential.