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BRT systems in Latin America: A comparative analysis [free access]

March 1, 2017

Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are bus-based mass transit systems designed to operate at capacities at or near those of metro systems. In Latin America, BRT systems have grown rapidly as a lower-cost alternative to rail-based transit, typically aiming to increase overall mobility while reducing negative externalities such as traffic accidents and emissions of pollutants. In fact, currently in terms of network, length Latin America leads the BRT market.

 

Global Market

 

Worldwide, 206 cities operate BRT systems, covering a network of over 5,500 km, transporting over 34.6 million passengers per day. Figure 1 gives the region-wise share of BRTs in terms of number of cities and network length.

 

Latin America is the leader both in terms of deployed network length, and number of cities with operational BRT systems.

 

Figure 1: Region-wise share of operational BRT systems

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Source: Global Mass Transit Research

 

Focus on Latin America

 

Around 1,900 km of BRT network is operational in Latin America, with Brazil, Mexico and Colombia leading BRT development in the region. 

 

BRT systems offer benefits similar to those offered by rail-based systems but at lower costs. Some of the benefits include reduction in congestion, pollution and accident rates. The cost of constructing a BRT system is around USD3 million/km compared to USD70 million/km for light rail systems. As a result, BRT has quickly become a popular policy initiative among national and municipal level Latin American policymakers.

 

Table 1 gives a list of the key operational BRTs in Latin America.

 

Table 1: Key operational BRTs in Latin America

Country

City

System

Length (km)

Argentina

 

Buenos Aires

Metrobus

56.0

Córdoba

Córdoba BRT

5.0

Rosario

Rosario BRT

10.0

Brazil

 

Belo Horizonte

Move

39.0

Brasília

Brasília BRT

91.0

Curitiba

Rede Integrada de Transporte

77.0

Fortaleza

Expresso Fortaleza

17.4

Porto Alegre

Porto Alegre BRT

66.0

Reclife

BRT Via Livre

25.0

Rio de Janeiro

TransCarioca, TransOeste, and TransOlimpica

168.0

Salvador

Salvador BRT

8.0

São Paulo

Expresso Tiradentes and São Mateus-Jabaquara metropolitan corridor (ADB corridor)

129.0

Chile

Concepción

Concepción BRT

18.0

Santiago

Transantiago

92.0

Colombia

Barranquilla

Transmetro

13.3

Bogota

Transmilenio

113.0

Bucaramanga

Metrolinea

9.0

Cartagena

Transcaribe

11.0

Medellín

Metroplús

18.0

Pereira

Megabús

16.0

Santiago de Cali

Masivo Integrado de Occidente (MIO)

36.0

Ecuador

Guayaquil

Metrovia

45.0

Quito

El Trole

69.0

Mexico

 

Acapulco

Acapulco BRT

16.0

Chihuahua

Chihuahua BRT

22.0

Guadalajara

Guadalajara BRT

16.0

Juárez

Juárez BRT

25.0

León de los Aldama

León de los Aldama BRT

32.0

Mexico City

Mexico City BRT

125.0

Monterrey

Monterrey BRT

30.0

Peru

Lima

El Metropolitano

26.0

Uruguay

Montevideo

Montevideo BRT

6.0

Venezuela

 

Barquisimeto

Transbarca

24.0

Caracas

BusCaracas

5.2

Mérida

Mérida trolleybus system

13.0

Source: Global Mass Transit Research

 

 

Leading the way

 

Latin America pioneered BRT systems, with Curitiba's Rede Integrada de Transporte being the first BRT system to be operationalised in the world (1974). The system has since been the model for the design and implementation of many BRT systems around the world. Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo have developed the most extensive systems in the region. Together, the two BRTs cover around 300 km.

 

However, Bogotá’s TransMilenio has become the poster child for corridors in Latin America. The system comprises a network of trunk and feeder routes, integrating to form a network of 113 km, covering 147 stops. The trunk lines are operated by 10 private operators, including Ciudad Movil S.A., Connexion Movil S.A., Consorcio Express S.A.S., Coobus S.A.S., Express del Futuro S.A., Gmóvil S.A.S., Metrobus S.A., SI99 S.A., SI02 S.A., and Transmasivo S.A.

 

TransMilenio has revolutionalised public transport usage in Bogota and accounts for a 75 per cent modal share in the city. Between 2010 and 2015, the system’s annual ridership grew at a compound annual growth rate of 7 per cent, from 463 million (2010) to 660 million (2015).

 

Further, Transmilenio S.A. plans to construct eight new routes along Avenida Boyaca, Avenida Ciudad de Cali, Avenida Longitudinal de Occidente (ALO) Carrera 68, Carrera Septima, and the road stretch between Calle 13 and Puente Aranda Bridge. These additions will take the network from the current 112.9 km to 207 km. The Bogotá city council will provide financing support for these routes by 2019.

 

Funding BRTs

 

Following the global trend, most BRT systems in Latin America have been funded through government sources. In Brazil, several systems were deployed in preparation for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games, most of which were funded by Brazil's national development bank/Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES).

 

However, in recent years, multilateral funding has also come into Latin American BRT projects, even though their share still remains low. The Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) has funded three BRT projects in the region, for the cities of Lima, Cali, and Montevideo. The investments made in these projects represented around 50 per cent of the IDB urban transport portfolio from 2005 to 2012.

 

Lessons learnt

 

Recently, IDB evaluated the Lima, Cali, and Montevideo systems, and presented a comparative analysis of the projects. As per the report, Lima’s system garnered the highest travel-time savings and corridor-level emissions reductions of the three cases. Cali’s system also provided several benefits, including substantial travel-time savings for trips along the trunk lines and had a much wider impact on emissions reductions in the city because of their ambitious scale and more successful bus scrapping programme. In addition, important improvements to public spaces were part of both the Cali and Lima projects.

 

In Montevideo, because of poor design and corridor choice, as well as lack of institutional and bus sector reforms, the system realised few if any mobility or environmental objectives; however, passengers benefited from improved sidewalks, a new electronic fare card system, integrated tariffs, and a system enabling passengers to access information on the best route combination from any origin to any destination in the city.

 

A key drawback of the systems has been the inability to attract urban poor, due to little or no diagnosis of their mobility needs. In Lima and Cali, the urban poor use the traditional bus services (even though they charge higher fares than the BRT systems) citing a lack of service coverage, slow service, and long lines as barriers at BRT systems. This was not measured in Montevideo.

 

Promoting access and mobility for low-income population is an important and increasingly, a stated objective of many public transport system investments. Low income populations often bear the highest burdens related to negative transport externalities in cities, including longer travel times and higher exposure to pollution and risk of traffic accidents. Lack of access to affordable and efficient transport generates social exclusion, impeding access to employment opportunities, services, and markets.

 

Thus, IDB’s key suggestions for future projects, include the need to:

 

 

While the projects brought several positive results, several issues adversely affected their development outcomes and offer lessons for future projects. The choice of corridors for the BRT systems had a strong influence on mobility. In Lima and Cali, dedicated busways were appropriately placed in high-demand corridors that experienced significant levels of congestion. In contrast, in Montevideo, the BRT pilot corridors were considered as demonstration projects and were placed in two relatively uncongested corridors with lower negative construction impact but lower potential social benefits.

 

Conclusion

 

With several BRT systems planned for Latin American cities over the coming years, it will be crucial for decision makers to incorporate their learning from existing projects to ensure smoother and effective implementation.

 

It is essential to choose appropriate corridors for BRT systems. Corridors with low demand and high congestion stand to benefit little from exclusive dedicated busways. However, in such cases, implementation of other necessary reforms in support of the system, such as government supported land-use policies that shape land-use around corridors, may help increase demand, as seen in the case of Curitiba.