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Bus Rapid Transit: Bogotá

Want to learn more about Bus Rapid Transit? Watch this video and let Streetsblog editor Aaron Naparstek show you how BRT works in Bogotá, Colombia. Take a gander and you'll see an efficient, modern and -- relatively speaking -- inexpensive way of moving 1.3 million people per day.

In Bogotá, where the BRT system goes by the much more sexy name, TransMilenio, you'll travel almost three times the speed of the typical New York City bus. The average TransMilenio vehicle travels at 17.4 mph. In New York City, buses poke along at 6.2 mph. Some TransMilenio routes average nearly 25 mph!

For quite a few years now, New York City's Department of Transportation and the MTA have been studying and studying and, sigh... studying the possibility of implementing BRT routes on selected corridors. And if Mayor Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan passes, a significant portion of the promised $354 million in federal funds will go towards launching new BRT lines.

Hopefully, New York City's BRT system will offer many of the excellent features that we saw in Bogotá; features like physically-separated bus lanes, pre-boarding fare payment, wide doors that open at boarding level and a control room nerve center that monitors and manages the entire system. These features give Bogotá a bus system that really works. Take a look.

[bus braking]
Aaron Naparstek: [0:10] At the end of September, I went down to Bogota, Colombia with Clarence Eckerson from Streetfilms, Karla Quintero from Transportation Alternatives, and actually even Ken from Project for Public Spaces was along for the ride as well. We were taken around by Guillermo Gil Penalosa, who is the brother of the former mayor, Enrique Penalosa. [0:32] And he gave us a great tour. We saw all of these incredible urban design innovations that the city of Bogota has been working on for the past dozen years or so. And it was really impressive. We got to take a look at that city's bus rapid transit system, which is called TransMilenio.

[0:51] About 10 years ago, when Enrique Penalosa became mayor, there was a plan on the table to build a network of elevated highways all throughout the city of Bogota. It was incredibly expensive, and multibillion dollar project.

[1:07] And Penalosa and his administration looked at this project and said, this isn't going to do anything actually to solve our traffic congestion problem. It's going to create huge negative environmental impacts on the city as a whole.

[1:21] So Penalosa decided to scrap that project, and instead for a fraction of the cost, replace it with what, I think, still today is the world's most advanced bus rapid transit system.

Aaron Naparstek: [1:34] Tell us what is TransMilenio?
Edgar Sandoval: [1:37] TransMilenio is our bus rapid transit and economical model, specially developed to operate in Bogota in the main corridors. The objective is to give a segregate lane, exclusively for big buses, in order so that people can move very quickly, but with 10 times less the cost of the traditional mass transit systems in the world.
Aaron Naparstek: [1:59] Some people call it surface subway. And you could kind of see why, its buses are on rubber wheels, just like you see buses in New York. But what you see they've done is, in the middle of these busy multilane avenues, almost highways, they've taken away a couple lanes in the middle and they've built these stations. [2:19] And next to the stations, you'll see usually two lanes of buses running on either side. You have a lane for local bus traffic and for buses to pull into the station and you have another lane for the express buses.

[2:32] The buses pull right up to the platform so that the floor of the bus is level with the floor of the station. So it's really easy for wheelchairs, and older people and people pushing stroller to get on and off the buses.

[2:47] I got to interview the CEO of the TransMilenio system, and she's someone who is there from the very beginning of the system and kind of worked her way up.

Angelica Castro: [2:55] Before TransMilenio, in 1998, one trip of 30 kilometers can be done in two hours, two hours and 15 minutes. That same trip you can do it today in 55 minutes.
Aaron Naparstek: [3:13] And how many people are you moving everyday?
Angelica Castro: [3:15] Around 1.3 million people per day. I think nobody believed in Bogota that we could change the way to transport our people. Because since 1947, we started doing and doing some studies, 50 years trying to do some things about it, but nobody said we are going to do it.
Aaron Naparstek: [3:40] They took us on a tour of the TransMilenio control room, it was almost like air traffic control, and in fact that's how they compared it. Six different companies actually own and operate the buses themselves.
Aaron Naparstek: [3:52] How many buses are you guys controlling in here at rush hour? Man 5: [3:55] In a peak hour, like 1,000.
Aaron Naparstek: [3:59] You've got sense of an average speed? Man 5: [4:01] 28 kilometers per hour in an average. But we have lines of nearly 40.
Aaron Naparstek: [4:09] Wow. [4:10] The central hub that we visited dispatches the buses and follows them around the city in real time, they can communicate with drivers individually. And you see the photo of the bus driver pop up on the controller's computer screen when he's getting ready to talk to that guy. They can see if buses are starting to bunch or stack up together.

[4:33] In most of the TransMilenio system are these double long red buses, but traveling around through city neighborhoods, you see these much smaller green buses, and those are called feeder buses. And what the feeder buses do is they travel through neighborhood streets and pick up people and take them to the bigger bus stations.

[4:56] One of the interesting things about the green feeder buses is that they're free. You don't pay for your TransMilenio ride until you get to the bigger bus station. That's one of the things that really speeds up the loading and the unloading, like the subway in New York. You're paying for the bus and the station, rather than having to pay the driver and wait for everyone else to pay the driver.

[5:16] One of the most impressive intermodal transportation features that we saw while we were in Bogota was this bike parking facility inside of a bus station.

Aaron Naparstek: [5:28] The TransMilenio system is a very important integration between transportation means. We have today, three terminals and one station with bike parking facilities. In this case, we are in the Americas Terminal. This parking facility has a 750 capacity. It's very safe; it's a good feeder system for the TransMilenio and it's for free. Man 6: [speaking Spanish] [5:48]

Man 7: [speaking Spanish] [6:06]

Aaron Naparstek: [6:20] They believe that for every 20 people they can get to bike to the bus station, that's one less of these green feeder buses that they need to operate. And that saves the transit system a lot of money. [6:33] So for Bogota, bicycles are really, critical part of the mass transit system. One of the things that's striking about TransMilenio is all times of day, it was just packed. I mean, almost if there is a criticism of the system, that had to be it.

[6:49] But it was really mind blowing. I mean, the fact that as an American, I mean don't know much about Colombia, I think of it as a developing nation or a Third World country. This bus system is so much more advanced and high tech than anything I've ever seen in the US.

[7:05] How has TransMilenio Changed the city?

Angelica Castro: [7:08] Before, we couldn't dream to be talking with you, saying we are going in New York to change something and we want to see you, Bogota. The name of our nation now is in the world and for good things, and TransMilenio is one of the best things that we've had in the last 10 years.


Clarence Eckerson Jr. has been making fantastical transportation media in NYC since the late 1990s. He's never had a driver's license and never will.

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  • Nas

    Please how can get further information about this company in order to partner in one way or the other. My government is trying to replicate this project?

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  • Andy Rogers

    Not true. I´m a mobility expert working @UK who spent 2 years in Bogota. 16mph is only measured in not peak hours. The system is guilty of the 613% increase on motorcycles and bicycles. (and many accidents since drivers are really chaotic). Belongings are stolen every day, accidents and delays happen any single day too. I witness a crass between two buses that caused 16 injured people and 2 death people and the media covered as a minor accident. People are attacked with knives, students jump though doors and ticket booths to avoid paying, and the system is really expensive for locals: us$0, 59 for a n average is$200/mo income. Neighbor countries are 1/3 of that. There you will see the truth. By the way, the xity only receives 6% of the money coming from rides, and bus owners 94%. Taxpayers paid for all the infrastructure,and right now, all buses, which were supposeed to be changed for new ones 2 years ago, are still filling with smoke the air and being left broken at street sides. This is plain corruption, and you can ask any expat working there. Check for yourselves linking to Youtube and requesting things like
    "transmilenio accidentes", "transmilenio asalto", "transmilenio
    trancon" and "transmilenio hora pico".

  • Andy Rogers

    You don´t really want to do that. Look in youtube for "transmilenio accidentes" , "transmilenio asalto", "transmilenio trancon" and "transmilenio hora pico". bad Idea.

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  • Robert

    It did say that was the system's only criticism: overcrowding.

  • Robert

    You must realize that Transmilenio has no subsidy and charges a flat fare equivalent to $1USD. Considering it has no subsidy, that is incredibly low.
    As for accidents, can you imagine all of the accidents that would have happened if the freeway system had been implemented?
    On top of this, the city does not subsidize the system; to the taxpayers, it is revenue neutral. And may I point out that something like 90+% of the expenses from this sort of system comes from running the damn buses anyway? The city doesn't even operate them! Sounds like a sweet deal for taxpayers to me! Even if it somehow isn't in and of itself, it is ignorant to say that this bus system is costing more to taxpayers than it is to the bus owners unless the government spent the money on the infrastructure extremely inefficiently. Maybe they paid for the infrastructure, and maybe the buses are old (and consequently make more pollution), but laws are going into place that limit the age of buses, and it is ridiculous to make an argument on the basis of pollution seeing as that a high percentage of those taking the system would be driving if it weren't here, meaning that there would be 1.3 million extra car trips, making much more pollution that the buses already do.
    The high crime rate is not too surprising for where it is: it's Columbia, a developing nation in a part of the world that is still developing. Since developing nations tend to have higher crime rates anyway, it is hardly surprising that Bogota is no exception.
    You seem to be pointing out problems that would not be translated elsewhere and, in some cases, may not even be as serious as you are making them out to be..

  • Robert

    Many systems worldwide occasionally melt down, or have serious problems. The NYC Subway, for instance, has melt downs, and no one is saying that the subway is not a success for New York- at least, not people who appreciate it for what it is and realize that most of the time, it still does work and meet schedule.

  • Robert

    In other cities with similar systems, the bus either receives priority at signalled intersections or, at high traffic systems, even ban auto traffic movements conflicting with the busway. The only thing I haven't yet heard of is BRT at roundabouts. I can only presume that a planner would ban extend the busway through the roundabout and force people in cars to take exits that do not result in conflict with the busway.

  • Robert

    I should say only serious criticism.

  • Carl D

    This is a joke, right? Transmilenio is a study in inefficiency...especially if you need to take a feeder bus to a station if you live far away. The whole ordeal of waiting for a feeder bus and taking it to a transmileio station could take an hour or more since Transmilenio does not cover nearly as much of the city as was promised intially. Sorry, fact of the matter is, Bogota needs a metro as a city that large can not thrive without proper, efficient transport that a metro provides.. The crazy thing is, Japan offered to build a metro for Bogota for free in the early 90s, with the only stipulation being they would also run it for the first 50 years. They were turned down...not enough opportunities for corruption in that arrangement I guess? It is also funny, in a bad way, how it can take ten years to build a bus terminal (in the north of Bogota). Too much corruption with a population that seems too complacent. For Bogota to truly be a world class city, some things need to change and one of the first things on the docket is a metro and overhauling the shitty transmilenio system. No offense, but Medellin is a superior city and that city should be the capital because of its dedication to advancement and improvement that leaves Bogota in the dust, and they have FAR SUPERIOR transit that makes transmilenio look outdated and quite frankly pathetic. There are too many "dogs" on the transmilenio that treat women like objects too, feeling them up all the time, as it is not a very safe system for many, the elderly or women in general as sadly, Colombia is still a very macho society even in 2016.

  • Carl D

    Getting better and better? Nope, look at Medellin for superior transit.

  • Carl D

    Maybe you should look at Medellin as they have superior transit.

  • Carl D

    Um, no. They are far behind what they had promised in regards to bus routes. Only a fraction of the city is covered compared to what they had promised and buses are slow, jam packed with thieves, perverts, awful musicians and hustlers. Plus, god help you if you live far away from one of the few stations and depend on one of the feeder buses to take you to the closest transmilenio station.

  • Carl D

    How about how far behind they are in routes and coverage throughout the city? No real enforcement against those who jump into the station without paying, perverts groping women or thieves selling stolen goods?

  • Carl D

    Ya...please don't. Medellin has better transit. At least they have a metro to cater to the huge population.

  • Carl D

    Maybe you should come here for a month for first hand experience..send a few girls too...you would think differently ater that first month.

  • Juan Camilo Guarin P

    Sir, no truer words were ever said about Bogotá. Plain corruption.

    I am from Colombia, and I am ashamed of this inefficient system, compared to the systems in France, Spain, Netherlands and well, the rest of Europe.

    The viewers should read this comment, because apparently in the video the Transmilenio is the best system a brilliant mind could have ever proposed, and it is not.

    I have used the Transmilenio, and it is a total chaos. It is a mediocre solution, because in terms of the same major "it is less expensive than a metro". As you should know, metros are used in every developed country to move people. Take Paris, NY, Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin and others as an example.

    It is ok if you don't believe my words, even if I am local. But please, search internet for "Transmilenio trancón". One image speaks more than a thousand words.

  • Juan Camilo Guarin P

    Forgot to mention Bogotá and it's neighbor cities now have more than 10 million people. Please, do not consider, even for a second, replacing a metro with Transmilenios. Not worth it.

  • Juan Camilo Guarin P

    Sir, first of all let me clarify that the name of my country is Colombia, with o.

    Second, I guess you have not ever been to Bogotá. If you had,
    and if you had used the Transmilenio, your vision would be very different. Maybe, seeing it from outside the Transmilenio do seem to be a great alternative right? But, would you be ok if in your city your public highways were stolen 2 lanes for a private company?

    Would you be ok if the buses spent more than 15 minutes to arrive? or If they constantly reach to this point? https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0c1ca379add8f309886a7c461417dda1ed7183fa6c80250df720272ca563b964.jpg

    Those, and many other reasons are what I understand @disqus_bxdGByob09:disqus consider as plain corruption.

    Third, mr. Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogotá again is a directive of the company who sells the buses.. Oh, look how convenient, his company just had the right buses to sell to the city, isn't it a coincidence?

    Fourth, I am not proud of any of the statistics of this developing country. Mediocre solutions like this only stuck cities.

  • Juan Camilo Guarin P

    NOOOOOOOOO don't do it you will regret it for the rest of your lives

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