Where mass transit matters – BRTs in Bogota: el mejor en autobuses de tránsito rápido

Bogota BRT station - Source: designinnivation.ie

In the past decade or so, bus rapid transit (BRT) has become a popular mass transit option for a number of cities in the United States and around the world. The first such system opening Curitiba, Brazil in 1974. However, for the quintessential model of the full potential of a successful BRT system, one only need to look to the capital city of Colombia, Bogota. According to a detailed study released by the United States Department of Transportation in 2006:

“Serving the city of Bogotá, Colombia, TransMilenio is one of the world’s premier Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. In January 2006, the system carried over one million passengers per day on a network of high-capacity trunk corridors, supported by feeder services that extend system coverage to peripheral areas of the city. TransMilenio is also the centerpiece of a long-term urban renewal and mobility strategy that prioritizes walking and cycling and discourages private vehicle use. Encouraged by TransMilenio’s success, the Colombian government is now embarking on a major program to construct similar systems in cities throughout Colombia.”

Bogota skyline - Source: bcwe.org

According to recent estimates, metropolitan Bogota has nearly eight million residents. A successful bus rapid transit (BRT) system such as TransMilenio in Bogota, Colombia should include most, if not all of the following features:

  • Bus only, grade-separated (or at-grade exclusive) right-of-way
  • Comprehensive coverage
  • Serves a diverse market with high-frequency all day service
  • Bus priority
  • Vehicles with tram-like characteristics
  • A specific image with a brand name: (e.g. TransMilenio in Bogota)
  • Off-bus fare collection
  • Level boarding 
  • Stations versus stops

Each of the features listed above are meant to improve service by making the system more user-friendly, reduce loading/unloading times, and create a comprehensive and efficient network. Ridership projections made in 2004 indicated that the new system would peak at 673,000 passengers per day. As of January of 2006, TransMilenio was carrying more than one million passengers per workday – with an astounding 41,000 passengers per hour per direction on certain routes during peak periods. In 2009 the daily ridership data had increased to 1.4 million per day.

Source: columbiabogota.info

Is bus rapid transit (BRT) the “be all, end all” solution for every congested metropolitan area? No, of course not. But BRT does offer another option for transportation planners and engineers to consider in addition to light rail, commuter rail, modern streetcars, water taxis, and traditional bus networks. Bogota, Colombia has shown us that BRTs can present a viable option that competes effectively with the other mass transportation mode choices. Each individual community must decide which option(s) are best for them based on their political, social, economic, topographic, and transportation dynamics.  For Bogota, Colombia, TransMilenio was the correct choice and all those involved in its creation and operation should be commended. Kudos!

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