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Ten Years After Redefining BRT, What’s Next for TransMilenio?

Three years ago Streetfilms brought you a comprehensive look at Bogotá, Colombia's TransMilenio, the world's most advanced Bus Rapid Transit system. TransMilenio changed the way Bogotá residents think about public transportation, becoming indispensable to the 1.7 million people who use the system daily. If anything, the bus network became a victim of its own success, handling more passengers and crowding than its planners anticipated. Today, ten years after TransMilenio launched, we revisit this groundbreaking transit system and examine how it must improve as it matures.

<p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Carlos Felipe Pardo:</i>  [00:07] TransMilenio has really transformed the way that people understand mass transit.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Dario Hidalgo</i>  [00:14] Bogota didn’t have a mass transit system before TransMilenio and it’s a very large city so having TransMilenio has changed the life of a lot of people.  Right now it’s moving 1.7 million passengers every day in the network.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Fernando Rojas Rojas:</i>  [00:30] TransMilenio is successful not only as a transport system but also as an image of the city.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Dario Hidalgo:</i>  [00:40] When we were planning TransMilenio there was no system that was able to carry above 20,000 passengers per hour.  And TransMilenio needed to carry much more than that because what that was the need of the current corridor and all the corridors in the city.  So it was very important to have these right through in terms of the technical capacity of the system to be able to go beyond what was normal for buses.  It was thinking completely outside of the box.  So any city can think of a BRT as a real alternative, even if they are thinking of a high capacity corridor, and that’s kind of a main, main thing why TransMilenio is regarded as a best practice worldwide.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Fernando Rojas Rojas:</i>  [01:21] Today we have completed two phases that have 84 kilometres of exclusive bus lanes.  We have 104 stations.  The benefits are numerous.  First, there are social benefits.  The average user now saves up to 40 minutes a day.  If we compare what used to be the bus lines 10 years ago to those today, the carbon emissions have dropped 98%.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Carlos Felipe Pardo:</i>  [02:04] Nobody thought it would be so extremely successful.  And that comes with a lot of issues that you have to solve.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Dario Hidalgo:</i>  [02:11] So this is a critical time when the city needs to look back into the system and do the improvements that it needs not really forget about all the maintenance issues, there are operational issues and the contractual issues.  If the city forget about caring for the system, it will be a big mess.  We set a standard there of occupancy of the buses that was too high and that has been the main complaint over all this time, the buses are really busy on the peak hour, stations are very busy as well.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Carlos Felipe Pardo:</i>  [02:42] This has taken the system to a point where you’re actually at full capacity.  When you’re at 48,000 passengers per hour per direction, it’s higher than many other mass transits in the world.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Fernando Rojas Rojas:</i>  [02:54] The growth of the TransMilenio system continues to be a step by step process.  It will continue with the addition of new bus fleets and with the extension of new kilometres of exclusive lanes.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Dario Hidalgo:</i>  [03:07] The main thing TransMilenio needs is increased coverage.  82 kilometres of mass transit for a city this size is not enough.  The plan calls for 388 kilometres.  Right now the city is building additional 26 kilometres that will make the system 116, and you need three times that.</font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Fernando Rojas Rojas:</i>  [03:28] Today we are organising transportation around the city of Bogota so that TransMilenio can be integrated in various ways.  We will be integrated through payment method.  We are going to be integrated through the infrastructure, and we will also be integrated in terms of the communication with the user.  </font></p> <p> <br></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"></font></p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman"><i>Carlos Felipe Pardo:</i>  [03:53] One of the things that we always tell people when they come is you have to see TransMilenio as one example of how to solve these issues, which you can take a lot of lessons from.  </font> <br> </p> <p><font size="3" face="Times New Roman">[music]</font></p> Transcription Sponsored by: <a href="http://transcriptdivas.co.uk">Transcript Divas Transcription Services</a>
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  • Joel Epstein

    Great film profiling a strategy that would work exceptionally well in congested US cities like Los Angeles.  I can see BRTs moving hundreds of thousands of people a day on LA's 10, 101, 405, and 710 freeways as well as wide boulevards like WIlshire, Ventura Venice, Van Nuys and Olympic.  Undoubtedly the car commuters will cry foul but this is the sort of program city leaders in LA and elsewhere should be advocating for.  In LA we have the Metro Orange Line and plans for a very modified BRT on Wilshire but our vision isn't nearly grand enough.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    Some of the benefits of using a bus are visible in this video. Multiple buses can dock at the same station and leave in whichever order, unlike trains which get stuck behind the slowest denominator (or a bus system without the passing lane)

    Also, there is a bit where you see maintenance ongoing in the bus lanes, so they closed a car lane, made a hole in the concrete separation, and the buses bypass construction. Again, thats impossible (well, highly expensive) with rail.

  • http://twitter.com/snogglethorpe Miles Bader

    Of course the only reason that "benefit" is necessary, is because buses are much less reliable w/r/t timing -- but that unreliability is a huge drawback...

  • Bolwerk

    I'm usually not the biggest fan of buses over surface transit, but if is hilly enough, Bogotá could be one of those very rare cases where BRT makes more sense.

    Unfortunately, it is still pretty ugly.

  • icarus12

    This clip is worth 10,000 words.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    Miles Bader, No. Transit of ANY kind in mixed traffic is unreliable. Transit of ANY kind on an exclusive right of way is reliable (assuming competent agency). Dont confuse your local experience with the technology.

  • http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com Alon Levy

    Trains can have passing lanes, too. They just never need the capacity except on insanely overcrowded lines.

  • Jerard Wright

    I'm surprised that there's no mention given that this system is at capacity for additional services that by-pass crowded stations or looking into the larger Bi-articulated buses that Curitiba uses.   Now Curitiba is looking at building its busier bus corridors into rail. Maybe Bogota should invest in that.

  • Bolwerk

    About the only time you'd want buses leaving in a peculiar order is when some of the buses are running way off-schedule – that implies a real weakness to this system, not a strength.

    Anyway, almost any conceivable benefit to surface buses can be realized in a surface rail system that leaves room for bustitution during maintenance times.

  • Anonymous

    Both of these things seem to be true. Bi-articulated buses exist and will exist more in the next phase.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    Bolwerk, youve never had a delay in boarding because of someone in a wheelchair or stroller....regardless of mode of travel? Or someone holding the doors open for their friend?

  • Allison

    Great video Elizabeth, lots of critical thought! Let's hope that's the only complaint we'll hear about BRT here in LA once the Wilshire Blvd. BRT is striped and operational in 2 years!!!

  • Bolwerk

    @Jass:twitter: of course, and so what?  On a properly designed system, you can make up time by going a little faster to stay on schedule. Presumably this is true for TM too. I don't think being able to leave in semi-random order is a problem per se, but I don't see a benefit either.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    Bolwerk, I suggest you ride the nations most popular light rail line, the green line in Boston. In the central tunnel, trains always have to stop due to congestion. With trains, the line moves as fast as the slowest vehicle because passing is impossible. Buses allow "leapfrog" service and the slowest vehicle is no longer the bottleneck.

  • http://twitter.com/snogglethorpe Miles Bader

    @jass:disqus Ok, you're right, the type of tires and track surface are mostly irrelevant (although historically there's generally a correlation between grade separation and rail).

    But I think my point still holds: the ability you laud, to pass/leave in arbitrary order, is only relevant when the system timing is so sloppy as to require it—and such sloppy timing inherently restricts the speed and capacity of the system. Morever, using this ability on a regular basis will make the problem worse.

    So rather than a positive, really this is a workaround for a very large negative.  If Bogotá wants to increase capacities, this is a sign that they've got some pretty fundamental changes to make.

    [Of course, as Alon says, passing can be (and very often is) done on any rail as well, and is very useful for handling expresses etc.]

    p.s. Don't begin your answer with "No.", it's obnoxious.

  • Bolwerk

    @Jamesboat:disqus : I have been on the Green Line.  So what? You can't use a bad implementation to prove a good implementation is inferior to a worse implementation. Miles is absolutely right: timing is everything, and buses pulling up and leaving semi-randomly is just not a good sign

  • Bolwerk

    Jeeze, I don't know how Jamesboat got in there instead of Jass. Sorry about that.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    @twitter-22468380:disqus  and @3a9cb377ae68ba7b489d30e5eb859747:disqus , lets assume that Bogota immediately replaced their buses and asphalt with trains and rail. What advantage would they see?

    Capacity? Well, no. Theres nothing limiting the length of a bus. Well, actually, the power of the motor is a limiting factor, but if they were to electrify the line and distribute the power, then you could have a 500 foot long bus, with the appropriate articulations. Of course, a 500 foot bus cannot leave the buway and travel on surface streets when necessary, so thats a huge drawback.

    How is the green line a bad implementation? it's the logical conclusion of ANY transit system that has greater demand than the travel way can accommodate. Trains can have congestion too. If the green line ran on tires instead of rail, it would be easier to create passing lanes and create local and express trains. That would be cheaper than the cost of adding a complete 3rd or 4th track to the system. Note I say easier, yes, trains can change tracks, but it's slow and less flexible.

  • Bolwerk

    @Jamesboat:disqus : besides capacity (um, don't even try that one), more punctual operation?  Anyway, I don't think the TM implementation is that bad. I don't see a compelling reason to change it to rail unless they really do need more capacity - in which case, they probably should probably go underground anyway.  For that matter, I don't see why BRT should be operating in such a way where buses are platforming together. It's a sign sign that the BRT system isn't solving the issues BRT sets out to solve over conventional bus service.  It's just that you're calling something that's probably a bug a feature.

    I don't know how bad the Green Line is.  I haven't ridden it since 2002. But if what you say about it is true, that it spends much of its time waiting for trains ahead to clear, there is something wrong with it. I'm just taking your word for it, but if that's the case solutions include: longer trains, more frequent trains, maybe supplementary local bus service, better operational practice (signals?), or maybe it really is at its capacity limit. If the latter is really true, any solution chosen to add capacity has a high upfront cost, and a new busway is hardly the cheapest or lowest-impact option. Either way, vehicles should not be arbitrarily passing each other.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass


    Youre going around in circles here. I explained that capacity has nothing to do with train vs bus operation. You can have a 10 car train. You can have a 10 "car" bus. As long as the right of way is separate (and it is in this case) then the fact that the bus runs on tires is no limit to the amount of cars a single driver can pull.

    And how does being on steel wheels help punctuality...? I assume you're referring to trains ability to accelerate faster. But thats only the case for electric, not diesel trains. Electric buses accelerate just as well.

    As for the green line, trains cant get longer without extremely expensive escavations  to make stations longer. Add more trains...? Theyre already backed up in the tunnels! Better signals? Well, the trains can run almost bumper to bumper (but not as much as buses due to stupid rules that limit how close trains can operate to each other). 

    Actually, letting green line trains "arbitrarily" pass each other would do wonders for service levels. Say the B line is docked at a station. The B is very popular, so it takes longer to load. If there was a way to pass, the less popular C could close its doors, and move on while the B finishes the loading process. Or, if passing was allowed, trains could "arbitrarily" express and skip various stops.

    Impossible with most rail systems because its too expensive to build more track.

  • Bolwerk

    Uh, no, you can't have a ten-car "bus" – unless you're calling the types of vehicles used in Montreal buses.  Certainly not with TM's busways, which aren't even fixed guideways, and even if that weren't a problem they aren't exactly impeccably straight.  What do you propose next? A high-speed bus? Articulated buses are probably about the practical limit to vehicke lengths without a fixed guideway; get much longer than that an turning radii need to be insane. (I suppose computerized guidance could make longer vehicles possible, but I have never heard of such things in practice.)

    Regardless, a huge part of the point of transit is to prevent vehicles from arbitrarily doing anything. The best thing for them is to stay on schedule so they don't interfere with vehicles behind them, and so passengers don't miss connections. How do you make a ten-car bus arbitrarily pass another ten car bus? If it's not possible with trains, as you keep saying, it would be even harder with buses.

    And where the hell are you that building track is more expensive than building a busway? Even in mixed traffic urban streets, it sounds iffy and it gets positively ridiculous on unimproved land or when grade separation is called for. It sounds like more of the same ol' buses are cheaper myth.

  • http://stopandmove.blogspot.com/ Jass

    @3a9cb377ae68ba7b489d30e5eb859747:disqus  Just because you havent seen it be done, doesnt mean it isnt possible.

    I dont know where you live, but if it's on the east coast, then you've never seen one of these on the interstate highway
    Thats right, a single truck pulling 3 trailers. And thats in mixed traffic.

    Heres what Utah allows, 95 feet in mixed traffic.

    An articulated bus is 60 feet.

    And yes, the Montreal metro is a good example. Being a "train" isnt what magically allows it to pull 10 cars. Nor is it the fact that it's on a track. It's the electric power that lets it pull so much weight and the fact that it has an exclusive ROW. And yes, the montreal metro hits many curves.

    The turning radius has nothing to do with overall length, but with segment length. As long as there is an articulation or gap every 30 or so feet.....your bus can be as long as you want if it's in an exclusive lane.

    You may have even ridden on such an example. Disney runs a 7 car + engine bus.

    Even does a tight loop at both ends.

    And here's the fun part: One disney tram can and does pass the other disney tram that is busy unloading to dock at the next available slot. (Families are slow)

    So instead of waiting behind the station, as a train would, this disney bus can pull around the loop and unload on the other side of the platform.

  • Bolwerk

    I'm familiar with that kind of stuff. It's cute, but it doesn't really demonstrate utility of buses 100' long, let alone 500', in any place where it might be practical to put long buses. I somehow doubt even Brasilia was built with such vehicles in mind.  What such things can't do it make 90-degree turns in a typical urban street, and they can't make even less sharp turns at reasonable speed, because they don't have a fixed guideway. And then, you have to consider that without some kind of guidance system vehicles behind will turn more sharply than vehicles ahead – it is not just a question of segment length. You can say you only need to build them the busways they would need, but why?  An LRT guideway is cheaper and allows for better service, and can go places the longer buses cannot go, and, despite what you keep saying, even can pass more efficiently if passing sidings are incorporated – and then LRT has lower operating costs above the rails too.

    Basically, it's what always happens once you start blowing money on fancier buses:  they get more expensive to operate and maintain than trains. Leave them for the low-rider local/feeder services they're built for, where there is no point in spending money on infrastructure beyond curb signs and the odd shelter.  There is a reason "long" buses are toys used at Disneyland, not mission-critical transit scenarios. (BTW, that bus-train is not very long.  It might be a little longer than an articulated bus, with a fraction of the capacity.)

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  • ultravomit

    I agree with some of the commenters here that rail is better, however even in rich world cities like Melbourne, where I live, a BRT system could have a role to play as a laterally-oriented complement to the existing radial train and tram network. We have a 'ring road' system of freeways to allow travel between suburban regions, however public transport is all oriented towards the city - a network of BRT lines could be developed at a lot less expense (and therefore would be more politically possible) and it could provide the kind of speeds and frequency that would make it a genuine choice for lateral commuting. People going from middle suburb to middle suburb, or peripheral suburb to middle suburb to middle suburb, would have a non-automobile choice, finally. Existing buses are too slow to give that choice in a meaningful way, but they could be made to connect with the new BRT system, in fact such integration would be essential. And once the route is established over time, upgrade to rail will be possible - I think in non-radial systems, people are reluctant to sink costs into rail without 'proof' that it will be used. BRT could help us make that collective transition mentally...

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