Mar 042015

The theory of everything. Technology, legislation and politics.

Hello everyone, and happy New Year (2015 and Year of the Goat). This is my first time to write a newsletter after the HVTT13 symposium. For those of you who made it to San Luis, I hope you have recovered from both the late nights and the travel!

South of the equator, we are just coming back from holidays. It has been an extremely hot summer, with major storms, floods and fires. In Argentina, I am happy to inform that the team in charge of the B-double regulation has been actively working, and we hope to see the regulation operating before the bell rings on the 1st anniversary since the national decree signed by the Argentine President on the 23rd April 2014 allowing them. It also has to be borne in mind that this president shall be leaving office in the next months. With gubernatorial primaries about to happen in different dates in the Argentine provinces, giving way to presidential elections in October, some “hearts and souls” are more concerned with their next political positioning rather than with transport technology, unless this represents lasting votes.

This fact brings me to the writing of my thoughts for this month. Technology, legislation and politics. In Latin America we had eight presidential elections last year. Brazil, Bolivia and Colombia, for example, all re-elected their presidents; El Salvador and Uruguay elected a new one but from the same political party, and Chile, Costa Rica and Panamá experienced a political change. However these last three countries operate “uninterrupted continuity”, where the incoming government pledges to maintain the investment and commercial policies of the previous one, providing a more stable business context. Argentina and Guatemala will elect presidents by the end of this year (Argentina renovates all its governors as well) while El Salvador, México and Venezuela will elect Parliament members.

Why is this so important for transport technology? Because no matter how good, innovative, necessary and discussed a technology is, in a year of political transition either you get that technology legislated, or it is shelved until the new authorities have settled.

Having said this, my research shows that years of democracy (around 30 years without a coup) are bringing a certain change in Latin politics towards a more professional management, regardless of the ideologies of who was elected as president. For example, the current Minister for Transport and Telecommunications of Chile is an engineer with an MBA and a PhD in Economy from the University College London. In Bolivia, the Minister for Transport and Public Works is a 50 year old civil engineer with an MBA in Environmental Management, while his vice minister is a 35 year old electronic engineer. Their aim is to coordinate the technological race in a more humane way. The Transport Minister of Colombia is a lawyer specialized in Conflict Management and Decision Making Strategies from Yale University. Her vice minister (also a she) is an industrial engineer with two MBAs from Ohio University in Public Administration and Urban Planning. Paraguay´s Communications and Public Works Minister is a successful businessman with a degree in Economy from University of California at Berkeley, besides an MBA in Economic Development, while his vice minister is a lawyer specialised in public transport problem solving. As a last example, Panama´s Public Works Minister is a civil engineer, president of the American Engineering Group, with 28 years of experience building bridges, motorways and toll systems for the Transport department of the State of Florida.

So it seems that the new challenges are being brought by the communications policies and strategies in this digital globalized XXI century more than by the technologies themselves. Some technology companies are starting to realise that instead of sending technical people to convince politicians of the benefits of their technologies, the way in is to bring political communications´ professionals into the company. For example, Uber Technologies, a US$40 billion e-hailing company, has hired New York Governor´s press secretary (he also was former New York Governor´s communications director) for its policy and communications team, and previously hired one of President Obama’s chief political strategists as senior vice president of Policy and Strategy. Uber has experienced a strong rejection in Spain, Germany, Mexico and Colombia among various other countries. Rejection did not come from users but from traditional business –and unions- who perceived their way of working threatened and pressed politicians not to allow the service. Remember –or I suggest to watch- Alec Guinness in the 1951 movie “The Man in the White Suit”…

While applying political pressure in opposition to innovative technologies is not new, what it is new in Latin America is the fact that more technical and management savvy people are being appointed to ministerial positions, while politicians experienced in communications are appointed to high positions in the industry. Interesting times, aren´t they?

Cheers to all,

Alejandra Efron

IFRTT Vice President, South and Central America

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