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2009 Urban Planning Travel

Thomas Bassett and Andrea Marpillero-Colomina Kinne Trip (MSUP 2009)

Transnationalizing Transmilenio: Bringing Better Bus Rapid Transit from Colombia to the United States

Recipient of a 2009 School-wide Post Graduate William Kinne Fellows Traveling Prize

"We embarked on a six-week study of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) in Colombia. We began in Bogota, studying the renowned Transmilenio as a model. Transmilenio has been so successful that Colombia is currently undertaking a national BRT project develop new systems in seven cities: Barranquilla, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Medellin, Pereira, and Cucuta. We visited the systems in various states of development in Pereira, Cali, Medellin, Cartagena, and Barranquilla. Through connections at the Ministry of Planning and the Institute of Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) we were able to meet with transit officials in these cities and learn more about the particularities of each system.

In Pereira, the two-line Megabus has been operational since 2007. The first phase of Cali's Mio network has been constructed and is operational; later phases have station and road infrastructure partially in place; the next phase of service is expected to begin by mid-2010. In Medellin, the Metroplus, which will supplement and be supported by the city's existing transit system of subway and cable cars, has been planned and in some neighborhoods road and station infrastructure is in place (although no physical stations have been yet built). The routes of Cartagena's Transcaribe have been planned, and community negotiations are currently underway, but the city administration has been unable to begin construction of roadways and station infrastructure. The situation in Cartagena, widely attributed to corruption, impedes the efficient development of a new BRT system. This challenge is also faced by officials in Barranquilla, where system plans are in a very early stage.

Inability to control and effectively use capital funding resources has been one of the major setbacks in BRT construction. However, despite corruption issues, Colombian officials remain confident that soon new transit networks will exist in every major city, preparing Colombia to face the urban challenges of the coming century. Even with these slight setbacks, Colombia is certainly leading the way in BRT as seen in their innovative funding and operational designs, as well as the advancements made with each new system in its own country. The buses continually improve: Medellin will have Compressed Natural Gas powered buses, Pereira instituted novel route design, and Bogota recently started to use bi-articulated buses to increase passenger movement.
Despite the demonstrable success of BRT systems, this type of transportation infrastructure has not been widely introduced in U.S. cities, perhaps owing to negative stigma associated with bus travel. Conversely, BRT systems have been successfully implemented in many other cities in Latin America, including Curitiba, Brazil, and Mexico City, Mexico. Our findings demonstrate that the need for cities in the United States to explore BRT to solve transportation demands, and see if this low-cost, high-capacity system can work here.

Our Kinne Prize also provided us the opportunity to explore non-transit related aspects of Colombian culture; we enjoyed eating countless arepas, visiting Bogota's famed Parque Simon Bolivar, and a three-day adventure in the jungle at Parque Tayrona on Colombia's Caribbean coast.
Since our return, we have given a presentation about our study to Professor David King's Urban Mass Transit Planning and Policy course and written articles about our findings."