Traffic Jams Worsened in Caracas Because of World Social Forum

Commuters stand in traffic and street vendors and taxi drivers lose money after the partial closing of a major Caracas artery for the Venezuelan gathering of the sixth World Social Forum.

Caracas, Venezuela, January 31, 2006—The Caracas gathering of the sixth World Social Forum brought people together from all over the planet, but the traffic that clogged the city—especially around Bellas Artes, the central forum area—kept many Caracas residents apart.

Or, at least it delayed them from getting to where they were going.

Caracas, on its best day, has Los Angeles-esque traffic: heavy, polluting, and highly unpredictable. Add to that tens of thousands of foreign visitors, heavy rain and the closing of part of a major thoroughfare through the city, and commuters, taxi drivers, and even street vendors are left in a bind.

The partial shutdown of Avenida Bolívar, a main artery, for events, markets and protests is not unheard of. But the 3-day street closure, only about half as long as originally planned, was unusual, especially since it took place during the week.

However, Marcos Padovani, the National Director of the Technical Security Corps for Transit and Terrestrial Transport told El Universal, “The people who live here know alternate routes and the security forces are keeping an eye on the surrounding areas.”

Even so, many commuters saw hours tacked onto their daily commutes. Ramon Lopez, who normally leaves at 4am to get to work by 7am, wasn’t getting into the city until 9am. “[Shutdown of the] the avenue was really difficult, because it blocked up everything… There were traffic jams everywhere,” he said.

But many Caracas commuters seemed to take the traffic jams in stride. “The forum was good…it’s good to have more communication between countries, but it caused more traffic. Everything else about it was excellent,” said Emileo Ramo, a security guard for the Venezuelan pro-government newspaper Diario VEA.  

Still, with bus drivers reporting fewer commuters traveling through the Bellas Artes area, street vendors who were unable to appeal to the masses of foreign visitors took a hit. “Wednesday, I didn’t sell anything, Thursday either. Today [Friday], I sold a little more, but that was to my normal clientele,” said Carmen Gomez, who has a flower stand outside of Bellas Artes. Normally, she says, she sells Bs 100,000 almost $50, of flowers a day.

Several blocks away, Rafael José said that in addition to losing 40 percent of his DVD sales, over a period of three days, the traffic was making it difficult to get across town and buy the movies. “The traffic affects us, since we have to travel to buy [the DVDs] …Also our sales have fallen, because there aren’t as many people [around here] because of the traffic,” he said.

Like the commuters, the vendors did not seem overly perturbed the situation. “I don’t have anything bad to say about the forum,” said José. “It seems like a good [event] to me…the rain was slowing traffic down too.”

Taxi drivers also reported losing money. Mario Surmay, a taxi driver for the Caracas Hilton, where many visitors from the forum were staying, said he had lost 30 to 40 percent of his business during the days when Avenida Bolívar was closed, and did not make it up with extra business over the rest of the forum.

Dorias Bustamente, a taxi driver who was waiting with several others outside of the Bellas Artes metro station said he had lost 50 percent of his income that week because of the forum. “I’m speaking for all of us,” he said, gesturing towards his companions, who nodded in agreement. “The traffic jam on this street has backed up half of Caracas,” he added. 

George Brian, a taxi driver who parks about half a mile away from Bellas Artes to wait for rides, said he lost about 20 to 25 percent of his business, and he wasn’t happy about it. “It’s crazy [to close the street down]. It’s a major street. Why didn’t they [have the events] in the Poliedro, [an out of the way area]?,” he said.