weekend distraction: colombian bus rapid transit

Commenter Adriana offers a feast of videos of Bus Rapid Transit systems in Colombia.  Not Bogotà’s well-promoted Transmilenio, but a collection from smaller cities:

  • A flashy video on Cali’s El Mio (“Mine!”) by Mauricio Alzate is a nice example of how all the techniques of marketing video can be applied to something as seemingly prosaic as BRT.  If you live in a wealthier country you my find this video easy to make fun of, but BRT can be transformative in a city that has known only a gridlock of collective taxis, pedicabs, etc., and this kind of flashiness has a role in building understanding and excitement about that.
  • From Bucaramanga, a video on how using your new smartcard system correctly will help you win the approval of pretty young women.
  • From Pereira, an informative nonflashy video showing how the BRT system looks from a driver’s point of view, with little text boxes capturing the viewer’s thoughts along the way.  This video is a good place to notice the South American preference for high-platforms with high-floor buses.  Most of the rest of the world prefers low-floor, partly because of inter-operability with ordinary street-running and also for ease of emergency exits between stations, as well as for the intrinsic qualities of vertical space within the vehicle.  So when you see a high-floor system outside South America you can be pretty sure that South American planning consultants have been there.

11 Responses to weekend distraction: colombian bus rapid transit

  1. anonymouse December 17, 2010 at 5:05 pm #

    Sure, low-floors have “vertical space”, but high-floors have “horizontal space”, with much more room for a more or less flat floor free of barriers, steps, and giant obtrusive wheel-wells. As always, there’s a tradeoff. And this actually applies to both buses and trains, though the details are different in each particular case.

  2. JJJ December 17, 2010 at 8:34 pm #

    Yeah, considering almost every real subway system in the world is high floor…what exactly is the problem? It makes sense to have a high capacity system be at level boarding, and high floor means no steps somewhere in the vehicle, or awkward low floor seat placement.
    Even 100% low floor trams have issues, namely a very narrow corridor to fit in the wheels, and some seats are quite elevated.

  3. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org December 17, 2010 at 8:58 pm #

    JJJ.  The problem is flexibility to run "open" BRT patterns where service flows through onto ordinary streets.  South American systems don't do this, partly because they are designing for such massive markets that they don't need to.  But the issue arises when you try to fit this model to a New World city, or even where you just want the flexibility to create the future service pattern before you've built all the infrastructure. 

  4. Agustin December 18, 2010 at 8:09 am #

    Thanks for the news from South America! I have a feeling a lot of cool things are happening there but I don’t get much news about it.
    Does anyone know of a blog/online magazine about public transit in South America? (One in Spanish would work too.)

  5. Adriana December 19, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Yes – South Africa for instance is going with the “Colombian Model with the Rea Vaya in Johannesburg, Cape Town’s IRT, and Port Elizabeth’s project – the latter however is breaking the mold and going with low-floor vehicles, but keeping the stations etc.
    Countries which have funding tied to international bodies, Ie. World Bank, have guidelines for accessibility and inclusiveness that seem to favour the significant, level-entry median prepaid stations.
    As a side note, regardless of their reason, I am delighted that consistent models of BRT are emerging.
    In many respects the very flexibility so widely promoted as an asset and that makes the idea of BRT so appealing to some North American* agencies may be it’s downfall. Implementation standards across the continent and even within the same city or even line, have been so diverse that people, from politicians to the business community to commuters, have no idea what “BRT” looks like and are often justifiably hesitant or suspicious when presented with the term. The enormous inconsistency and variability also poses challenges to the research community.
    *I cannot speak for antipodean cities.

  6. Fred S December 20, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    Hi, I took a trip to Peru this past summer, and took some photos and video of Lima’s new BRT system, El Metropolitano (the Metropolitan). Thought you might be interested:
    Living in Toronto, I was very impressed by the system, and definitely see how South American-style BRT could be used here as a cheaper alternative to LRT in many places.

  7. anonymouse December 20, 2010 at 2:52 pm #

    An interesting quote from that video: “Esperamos que Megabus recupere los arboles tan lindos que cortaron en Cuba. NO MAS PALMAS POR FAVOR. QUEREMOS ARBOLES NATIVOS.” Translated: we hope that Megabus will restore the pretty trees that they cut down on Cuba [street]. NO MORE PALMS PLEASE. WE WANT NATIVE TREES.
    Apparently palms aren’t an issue only in LA.

  8. Adriana December 20, 2010 at 6:31 pm #

    @ Fred ^ That would just make too much sense.
    I might be blunt for saying it, but it seems that many people cannot overcome the bias against less developed nations or the contextual differences to appreciate a good model when it is staring them in the face. If I were more cynical I’d suggest that the scant number of comments on this page reflects this.
    While we are scrambling to figure out how to improve service quality, prepare for the grey tsunami, and tempt more choice riders onto transit the simple fact is that many of the same design elements used in South American BRT happen to also be very incredibly user-friendly. No reason they cannot be adapted to low-floor vehicles.
    Has anyone (research) actually determined *why* aside from Ottawa and the tunnels we don’t have substantial or similar stations in North America?

  9. Alon Levy December 21, 2010 at 6:12 am #

    Adriana, the problem is that in the US, nothing works as well as in other places. You can’t extrapolate from the success of Curitiba and Bogota’s BRT any more than you can extrapolate from the success of Strasbourg and Karlsruhe’s trams or of Tokyo and Osaka’s trains.
    American implementations of BRT usually underperform, for the same reasons American rail lines underperform. The highest-quality American BRT line, the LA Orange Line, had about half the construction cost of the local LRT, but has less than half the ridership or capacity. Other US cities that look for both bus and rail alternatives on the same corridor find that the factor-of-2 cost difference holds, with LRT getting somewhat higher ridership and requiring much lower operating costs.

  10. Pete (UK) December 22, 2010 at 8:54 am #

    I much admire the South American BRT model, which I think puts most developed world systems to shame. Most UK cities can only dream of public transport like this. Adriana’s comment about the pitfalls of the flexibility of BRT is also applicable this side of the Atlantic. Local authority promoters of BRT emphasise the ‘rapid transit’ aspect, but when you look at the plans, or read closely you invariably find words to the effect that dedicated lanes will be provided ‘where possible’, meaning only part of the route, and actually not a lot different from conventional urban bus service.

  11. JJJ December 23, 2010 at 3:55 pm #

    Jarret, the Curitiba tube system is a good solution to the problem. As you may know, their true BRT runs in exclusive lanes with red biarticulated buses and boards in lengthy glass tubes (with boarding on the right of the vehicle). Those tubes are much too long for regular streets
    But they also have silver express buses that run on regular streets, are standard bus length, and also use tubes, but on the left side. That way, two types of buses can share the same tube, one in the BRT lane and one in the local lane.
    The express tubes are about the same size as a standard bus shelter, but obviously offer more protection. And they offer high level 3 door boarding.