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Catalan president talks public transit, economy

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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