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Catalan president talks public transit, economy

6/21/12

Artur Mas, the 129th pres­i­dent of the gov­ern­ment of Cat­alonia, Spain, said on Wednesday morning at North­eastern Uni­ver­sity that his com­mu­nity of roughly 7 mil­lion people strives to emu­late Mass­a­chu­setts’ eco­nomic success.

“We can learn from each other,” Mas said. “Of course we would love to have your [gross domestic product] and are envious of your uni­ver­si­ties and research centers.”

Mas addressed more than two dozen mem­bers of the North­eastern com­mu­nity and a con­tin­gent of reporters who gath­ered in the Raytheon Amphithe­ater for a trans­porta­tion sem­inar with Cat­alonian experts from govern­ment and the pri­vate sector. Later in the after­noon at the BIO Inter­na­tional Con­ven­tion in Boston, Mas signed an agree­ment with Mass­a­chu­setts Gov. Deval Patrick to expand Catalonia’s inno­va­tion partnership with the state.

The World Class Cities Part­ner­ship, an ini­tia­tive of Northeastern’s School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, hosted the event. The goal of the WCCP is to bring together civic, busi­ness and aca­d­emic leaders from cities throughout the globe for the pur­pose of cre­ating sus­tain­able social change through policy research, and the devel­op­ment and imple­men­ta­tion of best-​​practice solu­tions to common challenges.

The all-​​day pro­gram fea­tured panel dis­cus­sions on the expan­sion of Barcelona’s public transit system and the orga­ni­za­tion and financing of public trans­porta­tion infrastructure.

Cat­alonia, an autonomous com­mu­nity in north­east Spain, has become a world leader in sus­tain­able and eco­nom­i­cally effi­cient trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture, due in large part to its high-​​speed railway ser­vice to Paris.

Mas said Cat­alonia has devel­oped one of the most-​​used metro sys­tems in world, eclipsing more than 1 billion pas­senger rides in 2011. Chil­dren under 12 ride for free and low-​​income res­i­dents receive an 80 percent dis­count. Hand­i­capped metro users have easy access to ele­va­tors and escalators.

“Our trans­porta­tion system is truly for everyone,” Mas explained.

Cat­alonia, he said, must often do more with less. The Spanish com­mu­nity lacks nat­ural resources and land, but makes up for its short­com­ings with intel­lec­tual capital.

As Mas put it, “We have cre­ated a wealth of knowl­edge and technology.”

Northeastern’s Dis­tin­guished Pro­fessor of Polit­ical Sci­ence, Michael Dukakis, who has long advo­cated for a national net­work of high-​​speed rail lines, expressed dis­ap­point­ment with our country’s mass-​​transit system.

“We are not excep­tional when it comes to trans­porta­tion infra­struc­ture,” he said in his wel­coming remarks, noting the dichotomy between the trans­porta­tion sys­tems in the United States and South Korea, which he called “one of the finest” in the world.

Alan Solomont, the United States ambas­sador to Spain and Andorra, praised Catalonia’s high-​​speed rail in his intro­duc­tion of Mas, saying, “It’s never been late, it’s smooth and it’s quick.”

He high­lighted the close rela­tion­ship between the U.S. and Spain, pointing to his polit­ical strategy of “putting eco­nomic policy at the fore­front of for­eign policy.”

“We have helped Amer­ican com­pa­nies in Spain com­pete on a level playing field,” Solomont explained. “Spain has more assets and the economy has more strengths” than the country gets credit for, he added.

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