News Transportation

Bogota’s TransMilenio serves as model for Cincinnati’s planned BRT

Cincinnati is exploring the idea of implementing bus rapid transit (BRT) lines to create better transit access from the city’s inner-ring suburbs to the employment centers of downtown and uptown. The success of BRT is often determined before the first passenger ever boards. Design, routing and operation planning often determines the level of success experienced. As a result, UrbanCincy traveled to Bogota, Colombia to see how one of the world’s most famous, and successful bus rapid transit systems works.

Bogota’s TransMilenio system first opened in December 2000. The investment was made in lieu of a much more expensive, and invasive, highway building project to relieve congestion in Colombia’s largest city. Since that time, the TransMilenio’s reach has grown along with its popularity, now serving 1.5 million riders each day along its nine lines totaling 54 miles.

TransMilenio Peppe Sierra Estacion on Bogota’s north side. Photograph by Randy A. Simes.

The TransMilenio operates in the center of major thoroughfares throughout Bogota. Riders often access the stations by crossing steel walkways that extend over the wide streets below. The stations also use similar steel framework and include glass doors that open when buses pull up to the platform.

The simple design helped to keep initial costs low ($9.6M per mile), but is showing signs of significant wear and tear. The open air stations also suffer from the extreme pollution from vehicle, truck and bus exhaust along the busy roadways.

The buses themselves are typically single-articulated red buses that are easily recognizable from the city’s plethora of private buses operating as circulators throughout the rest of the city. To accommodate more passengers, new double-articulated buses are now being integrated into the overall system as station design permits.

It is important to note that the TransMilenio only operates along major thoroughfares and functions much like an above-ground rapid transit system. The buses do not reach into neighborhoods and instead focus on moving people long distances along specific corridors. Other trips are better made by using the small, private buses operating on local streets.

The original TransMilenio lines were routed much like those being planned for Cincinnati. Lines focused on moving people from heavily populated residential areas to the downtown business district, surrounding university and government buildings, and tourist attractions. New lines are extending into secondary job centers including the city’s international airport.

TransMilenio BRT service in downtown Bogota along Calle 13 [LEFT]. Service doors at Avenida Jimeniz TransMilenio Estacion in downtown Bogota [RIGHT]. Photographs by Randy A. Simes.

The TransMilenio may be one of the most sophisticated BRT systems in the world. During peak travel times, buses operate at extreme frequencies with buses arriving at station platforms virtually non-stop. The buses also receive traffic light priority. They are not timed with lights due to the unpredictability of station length stops as passengers try to cram on the bus.

The system operates from 5am to 11pm and uses an electronic fare payment system. This payment system is different from others systems around the world. Riders purchase a specific number of trips from a person staffing each location. This creates backups during heavy travel times as many people attempt to purchase trip cards. These cards are then used until the last trip when the card is inserted into the turnstile and recycled for later use.

Fares have risen steadily since the system began operation in late 2000, and now costs 1,700 Colombian Pesos per trip (about $1). The huge ridership numbers clearly allow for fares to be kept low, but the rising cost of oil is sure to impact a system that relies solely on diesel fuel.

The buses are all managed at a central dispatch center which tracks average travel speeds, stacking at stations and other schematics. This system tracking allows operators to determine how future improvements should be made, and how operation changes can improve service.

Cincinnati should learn from Bogota’s experience. The TransMilenio offers superior service, but also suffers from problems that could be solved with a greater upfront investment.

When operating lots of big buses at high frequencies, it is no wonder that heavy pollution comes with it. Bus rapid transit in Cincinnati should utilize electric overhead wires, or some sort of clean fuel technology to prevent such pollution from proliferating along the lines.

When designing bus rapid transit lines and stations for Cincinnati, city leaders and transit officials should not view BRT as a cheap transit alternative. In the case of BRT, like many things, you get what you pay for. The TransMilenio has robust stations and huge amounts of right-of-way clearly separated from other traffic. BRT systems that do not invest in superior station designs and separated right-of-way, will suffer lower ridership due to the lack of improved travel times and overall perception problems.

Bus rapid transit should also not be viewed as a transit solution to be done instead of rail investments. This has been seen in Bogota, and city leaders there are now working on a new subway and a massive light rail system that will compliment the TransMilenio which will eventually cover 241 miles.

Development News Transportation

Guangzhou’s bus rapid transit system wins city international transport award

Streetfilms, in partnership with the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP), produced a new video highlighting Guangzhou’s bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The BRT system won the city the 2011 International Sustainable Transportation Award from ITDP, and currently serves 800,000 passengers each day.

The system is by far the largest BRT system in Asia, but comes in behind Bogota’s Transmilenio system which serves 1.2 million riders daily. The similarities are striking though. Both Guangzhou and Bogota include robust stations and heavily dedicate right-of-way. The systems are also being built in combination with other forms of transport instead of lieu of them.

“You must also think about multi modal integration,” says Xiaomei Duan, Chief Engineer, Guangzhou BRT Project. “For example, on this corridor we have three metro stations integrated with our BRT station, and around the BRT stations we have our bike stations.”

Guangzhou is the second largest city in the world with approximately 25 million people, and it is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The implementation of the new BRT system was done, in part, to cut carbon emissions, reclaim space for people and reduce traffic congestion.

The Guangzhou BRT system opened in February 2010 and was designed to now be completely integrated with the city’s new bike share network and metro system.

Development News Transportation

Cincinnati to examine bus rapid transit as part of expanding transit network

As Cincinnati moves forward with the development of the Midwest’s first modern streetcar system, a political leader is pushing for even greater transit improvements that would compliment an increasingly diverse collection of alternative forms of transport.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is proposing a robust network of bus rapid transit (BRT) that would connect the region’s commuters with major employment centers like Uptown and Downtown. Qualls believes BRT is a cost-effective and innovative transit strategy.

“Bus rapid transit incorporates many of the advantages of light rail, but is cheaper and can be implemented quickly,” Qualls said in a prepared statement. “Cities around the world and the country are giving commuters a great transit option now with rapid transit.”

Many cities around the United States and internationally are beginning to look at BRT more closely as a cheaper alternative to building dedicated rail transit systems. After first being popularized in Bogotá, Columbia, bus rapid transit now exists in 33 cities throughout the world with an additional 22 systems planned.

What differentiates BRT routes from other bus routes is the dedicated lanes they use. These dedicated corridors are often complimented by signal prioritization and timing that allows for faster travel times over long distances.

“Cities are looking to rapid transit to meet increased commuter demand and to spur development,” Qualls stated. “Because the conversion to rapid transit is faster and cheaper than developing light rail, it is an important interim step that helps build transit ridership and provides a great service in the near term.”

While some transit experts agree that BRT can serve as an integral part of an overall transit system, others believe that BRT can be compromised when pitched as an inexpensive alternative to light rail.

“If you look at Oakland, who was studying BRT, they’ve been working on the project for a long time and recently had the City of Berkeley decline to even study dedicated lanes even though that was the plan all along,” explained Jeff Wood, Chief Cartographer, Reconnecting America.  “They felt like they could do it cheaper than light rail, but now they aren’t even going to get any of the benefits of bus rapid transit.”

As part of Vice Mayor Qualls’ motion, BRT would be a portion of a larger multi-modal transit plan that would include the streetcar and light rail according to Cincinnati’s existing rail plan. Major corridors would include I-75, I-71, Queen City Avenue, Harrison Avenue, Vine Street, Reading Road, Madison Road, and Martin Luther King Drive. Qualls suggested the city aggressively pursue state and federal funds to pay for the development of bus rapid transit.

Those interested in learning more about bus rapid transit have the opportunity to meet with BRT expert Jack Gonsalves at the OKI Regional Council of Governments Board Room (map) on Monday, December 6 at 1pm.  Gonsalves will be joined by a variety of local leaders to discuss BRT and how it might be developed in Cincinnati.