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Latin America: Home of Innovative Reforms for Our Cities

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The new kid on the block in the transport sector is here. The City Shuttle Mass Transit buses. Will this be the answer we have been looking for? We are yet to find out. These buses have a capacity of 105 passengers per trip. This is nearly double the size of the current buses. Out of the total passengers ferried,  60 will be seated and slightly over 40 others will stand just as shown in the photos below. No seat belt will be applicable here!

The Cabinet Secretary for Transport taking a ride in the brand new buses in the streets of Nairobi.


Latin America specifically Bogota city has been the home of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) experiments over the last 30 years. This is contrary to what people think in many parts of the world. Buses are portrayed as a means of transport for the poor and the struggling middle class. This is not the case for the developed countries where even the political class use the buses to get to work every morning.  

There is need for Kenya to change policies and allow creation of dedicated lanes for high speed operations. The freeing up of space is a prerequisite for efficient public transportation. This may call for a change of policy to prevent private cars from accessing the Central Business District (CBD). There is also an agent need for the city to create parking lots in the outskirts of the city. This is where vehicles will be parked to reduce traffic jams within the city. The Bus Rapid Transit System will also call for dedicated bus stations.

The Porto Alegre City is a home for participatory budgeting. This is a popular public participation exercise used to identify public investments to be prioritized. This type of budgeting was first done in 1989. The experience was responsible for dealing with high inequality levels at the time. 

The most intense and useful participatory budgeting activities happened between 1994 to 2004. At the beginning of these innovative reforms over a third of the city residents lived in various informal settlements around the city. These people had no access to safe water and sanitation. There were no schools and healthcare facilities. 


Participatory budgeting in Porto Alegre started with a series of meetings commonly called assemblies. Here delegates elected from various districts help in identification of projects to be given a priority. Later the projects are voted by the Municipal Council. The mayor is the only person who has veto powers on the budgeting process. 

Porto Alegre Statistics

The city’s budget is estimated to be approximately $200 million per year. Participatory budgeting is superior because it brings together diversified groups of people. The participants are from different political and economic backgrounds. At the apex of the process, up to 50,000 people were involved in the budgeting process. 

Any outcomes?

A research paper by the World bank revealed that the city’s participatory budgeting has largely improved the standards of living. The table below shows some of the changes that have been recorded.

Key Performance Indicator  1985 1988 1996 1997
sewer & water access 75% 98%
Education & Health Budget  13% 40%

The participatory budgeting process has been very infectious. Many countries around the world have embraced reforms to allow the practice. For instance, the Constitution of Kenya 2010 (Article 201) requires that the government practices openness and accountability in all her policy formulation processes. In addition to that, the Public Finance Management Act 2012 requires that the National government and county assemblies have to involve the public in the budget-making process. 


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